Billie Barry, legend of Irish stage, dies

Family pays tribute to ‘beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother’

Billie Barry pictured in 2010. Photograph: Collins

Billie Barry pictured in 2010. Photograph: Collins

 

Irish theatre legend Billie Barry has died, her family announced today.

Ms Barry, who founded a stage school called after herself, “died peacefully” this morning at Beechlawn Nursing Home, Drumcondra, said her family in a statement. They added it was with “great sadness” the announcement was being made.

“Billie Barry was loved by the thousands of students who passed through her school. And we know that they are all thinking of her during this difficult time,” added the statement. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

It is not known what age Ms Barry was as she kept it a secret “all her life”, according to her family, who said they were unaware of it themselves and wish to respect her wishes in that regard.

Theatre and music ran deep in Ms Barry’s family with her father John Clarke-Barry a respected musician who took part in many orchestras. Her mother was an amateur operatic singer.

Ms Barry was herself a solo performer at the age of five. Later, in a close harmony act called The Barry Sisters she toured extensively in Ireland and the UK, and broadcast regularly for the BBC and Irish radio.

She then travelled to the Empire Theatre, Belfast, with Noel Purcell’s show Anything May Happen and remained there for many years as a singer, dancer and choreographer with Gerald Morrison’s famous production Come to the Show.

The Billie Barry Stage School was founded in 1964. The school had a mere 36 students on its first day. Within six months of its foundation, the school had students appearing on television in the children’s show Saoirse agus Bartley.

Not long after, Ms Barry won an audition for the pantomime at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, beginning a 36-year tradition that is still running today. Subsequently, the Billie Barry Stage School was given a coveted appearance on the Late Late Show, which gave the school and the pupils wide exposure all across the country.

Ms Barry retired in 1999 and the reins were handed over to her daughter Lorraine.

In 2010, Ms Barry was honoured with the Variety Club of Ireland Living Legend Award at a celebratory concert staged in the National Concert Hall. This was followed by an invitation to dinner from President Mary McAleese to celebrate her life achievements.

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