Pascal Whelan, who has died at the age of 75, was both a professional stuntman who doubled for many leading actors and the last permanent resident of Connemara's Omey island.
Falling from a height and from moving cars, surviving beds of nails and enduring tows behind speeding vehicles were his forte during a stellar career, when he worked with actors such as Paul Hogan on the set of Crocodile Dundee. He also taught the late Peter O'Toole how to sword-fight for a production of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Omey had 70 residents when Whelan was born in 1942 on the mainland, the youngest of four. His first low-tide transit to the island from Claddaghduff was as a week-old baby in a horse- drawn cart in the arms of his sister, Hilary.
In an interview with biographer
, he noted that the islanders were “pretty much self-sufficient”. His father
John Francis Whelan
, a draughtsman engineer from
, took a job in Wales and visited home when he could. His wife Margaret “Peggy” Powell, who was from Omey, kept a few cattle, chickens, geese, ducks and grew vegetables, while his uncle shot rabbits and starlings.
Seafood included crabs, along with wrasse and pollack, preserved with salt. In a documentary for RTÉ by Ciaran Cassidy, he recalled, "Everything here was so natural . . . we didn't know anything different," he said.
However, he was just six years old when he and his siblings moved with their mother permanently to Wales to join their father. At the age of 20, Whelan and his first wife, Pauline, took up a £10 assisted passage scheme and emigrated to Australia. He worked as a plasterer in Melbourne, and it was here that a friend introduced him to wrestling.
He loved the sport, learned how to make a full body fall without injury, and earned some money in boxing tents. This led to his first experience of stunts, after he stepped in for a professional who was reluctant to make a fall. He was offered six months' work with Shaw Studios in Hong Kong.
He joined a live stunt show team on his return to Australia, where he was billed as "Pat Whelan" and toured both the Australian continent and New Zealand – often filling arenas to capacity. He also worked on television and film sets, and his credits included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Live and Let Die.
He married again in New Zealand, but after he and his second wife, Adi, split up, he moved back to Ireland in the 1970s. He settled initially in Clifden, and then set up a stunt training school in Dublin. He was interviewed about his career several times on TV, demonstrating how to survive a bed of nails on RTÉ's Kenny Live and duelling with Peter O'Toole on BBC's Russell Harty Show. However, he regarded his work as stunt co-ordinator for the RTÉ production of James Plunkett's Strumpet City as one of his finest achievements.
He was involved in a live show in Co Waterford when an experienced stunt colleague, John Condron, was fatally injured in a fall. Whelan described how devastated he was after his close friend died in his arms, and how his heart was no longer in stunt work after that.
He moved to Omey, living in a mobile home, growing vegetables, picking winkles, oysters and clams. In summer, he fished for lobsters and crab, engaged in diving and assisted in search and rescues. As Ciara Glasscott recalled at the funeral of her "honorary grandfather" in Claddaghduff church on Wednesday, he always had an "open door and a glass of wine" for visitors.
He shared his detailed knowledge of the island’s history, and he also marked out a rock close to his mobile home as a “tell tale” for incoming tides. Living life “on the edge”, he sometimes chanced the tide himself on the way to and from Sweeney’s bar and shop. He lost a number of cars on the strand – two in one week alone.
In his RTÉ Documentary on One interview with Cassidy, he described how one vehicle had cut out in the filling tide. But he left it overnight, and was able to start it the following day. It was so light the front wheels had been able to take float.
Omey races chairman Feichín Mulkerrin recalled how Whelan engaged in community life, and ran the local lottery. He was devoted to his dog, Rex, and a cat. “Adventure was what he lived for,” his sister Hilary said.
“I am not exactly a hermit,”Whelan told Griffin in his photographic biography. In the last few years, he suffered ill health but refused to leave his offshore home.
“There is a big difference between feeling lonely and being alone,” he said. “I have been in large cities where I am not alone but have felt very lonely. It is the opposite on Omey”.
He is survived by his three children, Sean, Shannon and Patrick, and siblings Maura, Hilary and Leo.