In a word . . . Gimp

I interviewed Donal McCann once, and approached with nervous uncertainty

 

What a day! Little Christmas. Women’s Christmas. Orthodox Christmas Eve. Feast of the Epiphany. It hardly seems fair that January 6th should be so endowed with significant events while other days are not.

Then, why should the calendar be any fairer than life?

You may have seen that documentary on RTÉ 1 television about James Joyce last month. A Shout in the Street was presented by Angelica Huston whose father, the great John Huston, filmed Joyce’s short story The Dead in 1987.

By far the best depiction on screen of what many regard as the greatest short story ever written, it was also Huston’s final film. Set in the house on Usher’s Quay, opposite the new James Joyce bridge in Dublin, which was owned by Joyce’s two elderly aunts, the scene was a party to mark the Epiphany.

Watching it brought back memories of the great actor Donal McCann who played the lead role of Joyce/Gabriel role with Angelia Huston as female lead Nora/Greta.

It was my privilege to have seen Donal McCann give some superlative performances, not least in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer and in that Sabastian Barry play The Steward of Christendom where he hardly left the stage for three hours.

I interviewed him once, something I approached with nervous uncertainty. For, was I worthy? Fortune and Margaret Thatcher paved my way. It was November 1990 and the television was on in his house when I arrived.

Soon both of us were riveted to the screen as a tearful British Prime Minister left Downing Street for the last time. Our joy was unconfined and the interviewed just flowed.

Almost nine years later I reported on his funeral at Monaseed in Co Wexford. His mother’s people were from there and he was buried deep in the bright earth next to his uncle Pat who died in 1992 at the age of 80.

It was he who said “the great thing about Donal McCann is that, no matter what part he plays, he is always himself”, as recounted at the funeral Mass.

There too that day was our President Michael D Higgins who found it “something wonderful that the nation should mourn the death of an actor” – one whose talent was “a kind of truculent gimp aimed at excellence”.

RIP Donal.

Gimp, an Americanism from the 1920s of uncertain origin, thought to refer to a loose-limbed gesture

inaword@irishtimes.com

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