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Niall Tóibín remembered as great actor and wit who `blazed a trail'

Niall Tóibín was born in Cork to an Irish-speaking family
Marie Louise McConville

NIALL Tóibín was last night remembered as a great actor and wit who "blazed a trail".

The 89-year-old star of stage, television and film died in Dublin early yesterday following a long illness.

Born in Cork into an Irish-speaking family, Tóibín began his career in radio before screen roles in Ryan's Daughter, Veronica Guerin, The Irish RM and as Fr MacAnally in hit BBC series Ballykissangel.

On stage, he won acclaim for playing Brendan Behan in Borstal Boy both in the Abbey Theatre and on Broadway and in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot at the National Theatre, London.

In 1992, the father-of-five appeared alongside Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the film Far and Away.

Last year, the Cork native had a role in the short film Remains.

He was given a lifetime achievement award from the Irish Film and Television Academy in 2011. Four years later, he was awarded the freedom of Cork.

The actor was predeceased by his wife Judy in 2002 and is survived by his children Sean, Muireann, Aisling, Sighle and Fiana.

President Michael D Higgins said his contribution to Irish theatre "was a unique one, in both Irish and English".

"The depth of interpretation that he brought to a wide variety of characters showed a very deep intellectual understanding and, above all, sensitivity to the nuance of Irish life," he said.

"The range of his work was vast and included unforgettable performances in all of the Irish theatres and some of the most important theatres in London and New York.

"While a huge audience will have adored his comic genius, his work included all the genres – stage, television, film and radio. To the latter he brought a distinctive voice which made him a much-loved interpreter of Irish life and its challenges."

Mr Higgins added: "Sabina and I send our deepest condolences to his children Sighle, Aisling, Fiana, Sean and Muireann and the other members of his family, and to all those who so loved his work".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Toíbín had "blazed a trail".

"Proud Corkman, loved across Ireland & further afield," he tweeted.

"Performance as Brendan Behan in Borstal Boy & radio, TV & film appearances will be long remembered. Great actor & wit. Rest in peace."

Dee Forbes, Director-General of RTÉ, said: "Niall Tóibín started acting in the 1950s and spent 14 great years with the Radio Éireann Players.

"He became, ultimately, a familiar face on RTÉ to generations of Irish people. A proud Corkman, he was as at home in film as on the stage, and an especially entertaining guest on many Late Late Shows over the years."

RTÉ presenter Joe Duffy also said the Ballykissangel star was "always friendly, an extraordinarily gifted actor, comedian and writer".

"No one could interpret the work and life of Brendan Behan more accurately," he said.

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