Donal Donnelly

Donal Donnelly (6 July 1931 – 4 January 2010)[1] was an Irish theatre and film actor. Perhaps best known for his work in the plays of Brian Friel,[2] he had a long and varied career in film, on television and in the theatre. His travels – he lived in Ireland, the UK and the US at various times – led to him describing himself as " ... an itinerant Irish actor ...".[2]

Donal Donnelly
Drawing by Reginald Gray. Dublin. 1956.
Born(1931-07-06)6 July 1931[1]
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died4 January 2010(2010-01-04) (aged 78)[1]
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years active1957–1999
Home townDublin, Ireland
Spouse(s)Patricia "Patsy" Porter

Early life

Donal Donnelly was born to Irish parents in Bradford, Yorkshire, England. His father James was a doctor from County Tyrone, and his mother Nora O'Connor was a teacher from County Kerry.[3]

He was raised in Dublin where he attended school at Synge Street Christian Brothers School[2] in Dublin where he acted in school plays with Milo O'Shea, Eamonn Andrews, Jack McGowran, Bernard Frawley (Seattle Repertory Co.) and Jimmy Fitzsimons (brother of Maureen O'Hara),[1] under the direction of famous elocution teacher, Ena Burke.

Acting career


Donnelly toured with Anew McMaster's Irish repertory company before moving to England where he starred with Rita Tushingham in the film The Knack …and How to Get It.

His breakthrough role came when he was cast as Gar Private in the world premiere of Brian Friel's Philadelphia, Here I Come![1] directed by Hilton Edwards for the Gate Theatre at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1964. The production subsequently transferred to Broadway where it played for over 300 performances and established Donnelly and Patrick Bedford – who played his alter-ego Gar Public – as formidable new talents to be reckoned with. They were jointly nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play in 1966.[1]

Donnelly returned to Broadway a number of times, replacing Albert Finney in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg in 1968,[2] playing Milo Tindle in Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth and appearing as Frederick Treves opposite David Bowie as The Elephant Man. He also renewed his relationship with Brian Friel, appearing in the world premieres of Volunteers at the Abbey Theatre in 1975 and Faith Healer with James Mason (Longacre Theatre, NYC) in 1979 as well as the Broadway premieres of Dancing at Lughnasa in 1991 and Translations in 1995.

For many years, he toured a one-man performance of the writings of George Bernard Shaw, adapted and directed by Michael Voysey and entitled My Astonishing Self.

Film and TV

His film roles included Archbishop Gilday in The Godfather Part III and he gained particular acclaim for his performance as Freddy Malins in John Huston's final work The Dead based on the short story by James Joyce.

On television, he played the lead role of Matthew Browne in the 1970s ITV sitcom Yes Honestly, opposite Liza Goddard. But from the late 1950s onwards, he often appeared in such British TV programs as The Avengers, Z Cars and The Wednesday Play.

Other work

He was an acclaimed audiobook reader whose catalogue includes Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary, and several audio versions of the works of James Joyce.

In 1968, he recorded an album of Irish songs "Take the Name of Donnelly" (Decca DL 75029) which was arranged, produced and conducted by Tony Meehan formerly of the Shadows.


He died in Chicago, Illinois, on 4 January 2010 from cancer,[4] aged 78, and is survived by his wife, Patricia 'Patsy' Porter – a former dancer he met working on Finian's Rainbow,[5] and two sons, Jonathan and Damian.[1][6] His daughter Maryanne predeceased him.[7]


Year Title Role Notes
1957The Rising of the MoonPrisoner Sean Curran "Jimmy Walsh"
1958Gideon's DayFeeney
1959Shake Hands with the DevilWillie Lafferty
1959I'm All Right JackPerce Carter
1963The InformersTommy the TrotterUncredited
1965Young Cassidy1st Hearseman
1965The Knack ...and How to Get ItTom
1965Up Jumped a SwagmanBockeye
1970The Mind of Mr. SoamesJoe Allan
1987The DeadFreddy Malins
1990The Godfather Part IIIArchbishop Gilday
1994Squanto: A Warrior's TaleBrother Paul
1994Words Upon the Window PaneCornelius Patterson
1995KoreaJohn Doyle
1998This Is My FatherJohn Maney
1998Love and RageSweeney


  1. Coveney, Michael (7 January 2010). "Donal Donnelly obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  2. "Donal Donnelly, Actor Who Nurtured Irish Roles, Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. Murphy, Colin (9 January 2010). "'We've lost something very special'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  4. Obituary in Irish Times
  5. "Donal Donnelly". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  6. "Irish actor Donal Donnelly dies". RTÉ Entertainment. 5 January 2010. Archived from the original on 18 January 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  7. "Donal Donnelly". The Stage. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
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