Gifted actor of RTÉ soaps and notable stage productions

Daphne Carroll: November 15th, 1923 - February 8th, 2015

Daphne Carroll  during rehearsals for the  play “The Unexpected Death of Jimmy Blizzard”

Daphne Carroll during rehearsals for the play “The Unexpected Death of Jimmy Blizzard”

 

Daphne Carroll, who has died aged 91, was one half of a famous Irish acting marriage which in its present generation has produced no fewer than five thespians, sons Paul and Stephen and daughters Barbara, Cathryn and Jane, her children with the renowned RTÉ actor Dennis Brennan, who predeceased her 31 years ago.

Educated at the Loreto nuns’ boarding school in Balbriggan, Co Dublin, she had transferred at an early stage to their secretarial college in Crumlin in Dublin city but this was abandoned after she gained a place at the Abbey’s School of Acting, where her teacher was Lennox Robinson. There, she made her professional debut in 1941 in The King’s Threshold by Yeats, directed by Robinson and featuring Ria Mooney and FJ McCormick.

There followed an eclectic time as a member of the British armed forces entertainment group Ensa, during the second World War in Britain and touring Northern Ireland, and acting south of the Border with various professional troupes including Anew McMaster’s company, and, especially, with the Gate Theatre.

Touring

The Strings are FalseCyril Cusack

In the same year she joined Dennis as a member of the Radio Éireann Repertory Company, the only full-time group of actors in Ireland apart from the Abbey at that time. This was big news then; difficult as it may be to imagine now, as her daughter Barbara put it this week, “with no television, you were a star if you were on radio”.

Gifted with a wide vocal range, which enabled her to play even children’s parts well into middle age, memorable roles at this time included playing opposite Micheál Mac Liammóir in Jane Eyre, and “making the most of her role” as The Irish Times radio critic put it, in Sheridan’s The Rivals, and as the magical boy Pinnochio in a radio pantomime.

Among a huge variety of work with RTÉ, which lasted until her retirement from the national broadcaster in the 1980s, was a November 1972, competition in Tokyo, where Carroll was one of the voices in a documentary, Give Your Child a Chance, which won the Governor’s Prize at the Japan International Prize Competition for educational programmes, which featured 85 broadcasters from 54 countries.

Listeners will probably remember her best, however, when, playing against her natural personality, she was for many years the irritable and waspish Mrs Doyle in Lee Dunne’s Harbour Hotel radio soap opera on RTÉ 1.

Renaissance

Returning to theatre with a memorable performance as Mrs Henderson in Yeats’s Words Upon a Window Pane at the Project Arts Centre, Carroll then created the role of Dolly in Hugh Leonard’s A Life at the Abbey Theatre for the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1979, which toured to London’s Old Vic the following year.

The Irish Times’s critic, David Nowlan, noted in his review that “Ingrid Craigie’s young Dorothy and Daphne Carroll’s old Dolly merge so well … that they could never be anything but the youth and age of the same person.”

Very prominently, she was Mrs Bradshaw in six of the seven episodes of RTÉ’s version of James Plunkett’s Strumpet City, which was transmitted eventually in over 50 countries; Carroll had also been in the cast of Plunkett’s RTÉ radio play Big Jim, which eventually developed into Strumpet City, in the 1950s. Other screen work included the made-for-television film Caught in a Free State, and Bernard Farrell’s Lottie Coyle Loves Buddy Holly, also for RTÉ television.

Memorable

For the Gate, this included Mrs O’Meara-Hardy in Mary Halpin’s Semi-Private (1982); Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance, (1984); Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1987); Just Between Ourselves by Alan Ayckbourn (1993), in which, as David Nowlan put it, she played the “mother-in-law of the politely destructive tongue” opposite her daughter, Barbara, as Pam; Nell in Beckett’s Endgame (1995), which toured to Broadway as part of a Beckett festival, and Brien Friel’s version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in 1997, the latter production touring to the Lincoln Center in New York in 1999.

For the Abbey, she was Mrs Heegan in O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie, directed by Patrick Mason in 1990, and memorably, as Rebecca Nurse in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in 1995, where her daughter Jane played Elizabeth Proctor.

Daphne Carroll was born in Dublin in 1923, the only child of Joseph Carroll, a bank manager, and his wife Emily, née Turner. A lifelong teetotaller and non-smoker, she is survived by her five children, and by grandchildren.