“I spent most of me childhood in Ireland,” Paul O’Grady said on RTÉ Radio 1′s Ryan Tubridy Show in 2015. “My family is down in Galway and Roscommon; they’ve got a farm there. I loved it as a kid.”
Born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, O’Grady was born to Irish parents. His mother’s maiden name was Savage – which is believed to have inspired his famous drag alter ego, Lily Savage. His father came from Glinsk, Co Galway, and his mother from Co Louth.
“I remember my dad when I was a kid used to say we were related to Irish royalty, and we all used to laugh at him,” he recalled. “He’d say: ‘King Athel of Glinsk.’ And there’s actually Glinsk castle, and I wonder if there’s any truth in it. I’d quite fancy being Irish royalty!”
His Dad was born into the Grady family in Ballincurry just outside Glinsk, and moved to England after struggling with farmwork, later discovering he had tuberculosis (TB).
[ TV star and comedian Paul O’Grady dies aged 67 ]
“O’Grady came when me Dad came over and joined the airforce. They slung an ‘O’ in front of the Grady, so that’s why I’m an O’Grady. I don’t think he could be bothered changing it ... He’s a true Irishman, me father, through and through.”
O’Grady visited Ireland about twice a year growing up and came to Dublin regularly. He had pallets of turf sent over from Ireland. “I love the smell of it. That to me is the smell of Ireland: a turf fire with a frying pan with rashers going on and a bit of black pudding ... anything for a bit of turf.”
O’Grady had a role in Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father (1993), in which Daniel Day-Lewis won best leading actor at the Oscars. He spent three weeks filming in Kilmainham Gaol, including Easter Sunday, on the anniversary of the Easter Rising.
“It was very sad in the jail, but a great experience,” O’Grady later said.
He spoke of having several heart attacks previously. “It’s up to you really how you recover,” he said. “You can either sit on the sofa counting your tablets or you can get on with it – and I chose the latter.”
All that stems from my love of the farm when I was a kid in Glinsk, it never goes away stuff like that
O’Grady was well known for his love of animals. His Irish uncle taught him to milk a cow in Ireland, a skill that came in handy later in life when he owned cows, pigs, goats, chickens and sheep at his farm in Kent.
[ Remembering Paul O'Grady through the comedy of Lily Savage ]
“All that stems from my love of the farm when I was a kid in Glinsk, it never goes away stuff like that.”
Speaking to Pat Kenny on The Late Late Show in 2008, O’Grady said he had a farm “because of Ireland. Because I was brought up on the farm, and I thought if I ever get a few bob – never mind the fancy cars and all that – I’m gonna get a bit of land and a cow. I’ve got [cows], pigs, goats, chickens and sheep.”
The TV star, also known for his drag queen persona Lily Savage, died “unexpectedly but peacefully” on Tuesday evening, a statement shared with the PA news agency via a representative said.
O’Grady’s partner Andre Portasio said in a statement: “It is with great sadness that I inform you that Paul has passed away unexpectedly but peacefully yesterday evening.”
“He will be greatly missed by his loved ones, friends, family, animals and all those who enjoyed his humour, wit and compassion. I know that he would want me to thank you for all the love you have shown him over the years.”
O’Grady and Portasio were married during a low-key wedding ceremony in 2017. – Additional reporting: PA