Ability of Wesley Burrowes to ‘capture character’ recalled

Funeral told ‘stories mattered’ to the playwright, author and scriptwriter

Writer Wesley Burrowes was remembered at his funeral on Wednesday as a man of wit and charm, a lover of many things but, above all, a storyteller who brought passion to his craft - on occasion using it to hold up a mirror to society.

In a strongly delivered tribute, actor Tom Hickey, who played Benjy in The Riordans - the long-running rural-based television drama scripted by Burrowes - recalled how the writer used the drama to advance his views on Travellers.

"Maybe things have changed very little since the second year of The Riordans," said Hickey, noting that in 1966, a new character, "the tinker Eamon Maher, played by Joe Pilkington" was introduced into the narrative.

"Being a Traveller wasn't very popular with the local population," said Hickey, and Burrowes wrote a sermon for Fr Sheehy, the parish priest played by Tony Doyle, in which the priest had "a severe word with his parishioners".


Into Fr Sheehy's mouth, Burrowes wrote a powerful speech in which his fictional listeners – in reality, tens of thousands of RTÉ television viewers – were reminded of their Christian obligations.

Gifted writer

Hickey thundered the words spoken by Fr Sheehy, who asked following his fictional community’s treatment of the outsider: “Which of you will look into your hearts and see no shame?”

“Wesley Burrowes,” said Hickey. “Gifted writer.”

Burrowes died on December 31st. He was aged 85 and had been in poor health since a stroke in 2011. He was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in Co Down, but lived most of his adult life in Wicklow.

During a long and highly successful writing career he was the creative force behind numerous successful RTÉ dramas beyond The Riordans, including Tolka Row, Bracken and Glenroe, and also wrote several plays, a musical, a film script and a memoir of The Riordans.

His funeral, in Christ Church, Church of Ireland church in Bray, Co Wicklow, close to where he lived, was attended by about 300 people.

Essence of ability

They heard from his friend, the rector, Rev Baden Stanley, that the essence of his writing ability was “to capture character”.

"Stories mattered to him," noted Rev Stanley, recalling Burrowes's reaction to a recent remembrance event in which the scene at Flanders was recreated inside the church. Burrowes stood back, surveying the display, a memorial to 168 men and boys from Bray who died in the first World War, and thought of the individual stories behind each death.

His daughter Ciara recalled how, even after his debilitating stroke, her father's gentleness, wit and capacity to host remained undimmed. She listed his many loves – his family, dogs, writing, Greece, bridge and crosswords, friends and music.

Her father entered many crossword competitions, using the names of pets.

"George Burrowes, the loyal setter, won a case of wine," said Ciara, amid laughter. "Lucy Burrowes, the spaniel, won book tokens. My dog, Sid Burrowes, won a lovely weekend away in a posh hotel."

Her father's love for his wife Helena was "true love never to be broken". Helena Burrowes and Ciara, together with his son Kim, were the chief mourners.

Wide circle of friends

President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp, Cmdt Louise Conlon.

The funeral was attended also by a wide circle of friends and former colleagues from RTÉ and the acting world, including Noel Curran, Moya Doherty, John McColgan, Joe Mulholland, Eugene Murray, Noel O Briain, Ryan Tubridy, Miriam O'Callaghan, Sheamus Smith, Brian Murray, Geraldine Plunkett, Des Keogh, Marie Mullen, Emmet Bergin, Donal Farmer, Don Irwin and Johnny McGuigan.

Hymns included Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art; Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was read.

Mr Burrowes’s wicker basketwork coffin, with a bouquet of ivory roses and greenery, was carried from the church to the accompaniment of Seán Dunphy’s recording of If I Could Choose, co-written by Burrowes (with Michael Coffey), and then Elgar’s Nimrod.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times