Tom Hickey’s work ‘spoke to our private selves’, funeral hears

Son ‘overwhelmed’ by depth of feeling towards actor who died last week

Actor Tom Hickey will be remembered for his "magisterial work in the theatre and on screen", his funeral Mass heard on Thursday.

Hickey, who played Benjy in the soap opera The Riordans and was a founding member of Dublin’s Focus Theatre, died in Dublin last Saturday.

At the service in Eadestown, Co Kildare, director Alan Gilsenan recalled Hickey's years at the Focus Theatre, "a wondrous, mythical sort of place... It was there that he learned his craft and found what he would often call his true vocation."

Later "Tom would often tell me that during rehearsals for Tom Murphy's sublime 'The Gigli Concert' (actor) Godfrey Quigley once said to him, 'Tom, in our profession there are two types of madmen, the divine and the pathological. Avoid the latter.' He loved that, and the Focus seemed to him full of the divinely mad."


Gilsenan said Hickey’s “ability to conjure up magic is maybe best encapsulated by his performance in the closing minutes of the premiere production of ‘The Gigli Concert’,” where “Tom’s physical and emotional performance was quite literally an act of sheer transcendence.”

In his later work particularly, Hickey spoke “to us, to our private selves, touching upon something deep within the audience, the wounded, the fragile, the broken, the hurt mind.”

Tom Hickey “understood things,” he said. “Tom Hickey understood us.”

The actor’s son, Lee Hickey, told the mourners “the last few days have been overwhelming. To see the depth of feeling towards him, it’s meant the world to me and Dad’s family. I know he would have been beyond humbled by it.”

Of his father’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease, he said “the last few years have been a very tough road for Dad and the family.”

He concluded with “words that struck a chord with Dad, so much he had them pinned on his kitchen wall: ‘Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, leave the rest to God’.”

Gilsenan also remembered "the beautiful kind soul that Tom always referred to with the deepest love and respect as 'the wife separate', Jan Hickey, who died last summer not far from him on the other side of the Orwell nursing home."

Gilsenan also recalled Hickey’s early days as a footballer with Naas and the Kildare minors.

“‘Go home Hickey, go home.’ Tom loved to shout that. And then he’d laugh. He’d often recall the story of hearing that from the sidelines after he’d missed some tackle or other playing with the Kildare minors. It was the sort of self-deprecating anecdote that Tom told.

“There was something of a tragic drama in it, something that highlighted the outsider that he would come to embody, that he liked,” he said.

Earlier, parish priest Fr Micheál Comer explained how "Tom was here some years ago when his sister Carmel was buried from the church. He loved it, he loved the cemetery, so he expressed a wish that final prayers for him would be said here."

On a table beside the coffin was a photograph of a young Tom Hickey with Lee, the actor's hat and a Naas GAA club jersey. Music was by soprano Celine Byrne. "In a special way this morning we remember John Joe Byrne whose first anniversary occurs today. John Joe was Celine's father," mentioned Fr Comer.

President Michael D Higgins was represented by aide de comp Lieut Col Stephen Howard. Among the attendance was Sabina Higgins, who had acted at the Focus Theatre with Hickey, and Naas parish priest Fr Liam Morgan.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times