Joseph Tomelty

Joseph Tomelty (5 March 1911 7 June 1995) was an Irish character actor and playwright. He worked in film, television, radio and on the stage,[1] starring in Sam Thompson's 1960 play Over the Bridge.

Joseph Tomelty
Born(1911-03-05)5 March 1911
Died7 June 1995(1995-06-07) (aged 84)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
OccupationActor, playwright
Years active1947–1964
Lena Milligan
(m. 1942)
Children2, including Frances Tomelty
FamilyJoe Sumner

Early life

Joseph Tomelty was born in Portaferry, the eldest of seven children. His father was known as 'Rollickin' James' for his skill on the fiddle. He left his local primary school aged 12 and was apprenticed to the trade of housepainter, his father's trade. He moved to Belfast and attended classes at Belfast Technical College.[1]


Tomelty first acted with St Peter's Players and with others in 1937 and 1938 took part in discussions which led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Players on a more professional basis. Radio plays Barnum is Right and Elopement were broadcast in December 1938 and February 1939 respectively. The Northern Ireland Players chose the stage version of Barnum is Right for their first major commercial venture at the Empire Theatre in June 1939. In 1940 the Northern Ireland Players joined forces with the Ulster Theatre and the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society to form the Group Theatre,[2] and in 1942 Tomelty became its general manager remaining in the post until 1951.[3] His play, Idolatry at Innishargie, enjoyed a short run at the Group Theatre in 1942, but The End House, a controversial political play, did not even appear there. The play dealt with, what he described as 'the inhumanity that resulted from the Special Powers Act'. It was however performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1944.[2] Meanwhile, his career as a character actor had rapidly developed and a successful stage and film career was underway. In 1948 he was commissioned by the BBC in Belfast to write the weekly radio comedy drama series The McCooeys. This radio series lasted for seven years with Tomelty writing 6,000 word scripts for each episode. He continued to write plays, including his masterpiece, and a modern Irish theatre classic, All Souls' Night in 1948. In England in 1954 he suffered a car accident and, while he recovered, he was never as productive again.[1]


His brother, Peter Tomelty, was a tenor and recording artist. He married Lena Milligan in 1942,[4] They had two daughters together; Frances Tomelty is an actress and the first wife of singer and musician Sting, while Roma Tomelty is also an actress.[1]



  • Barnum Was Right (1939)
  • Idolatry at Inishargie (1942)
  • Poor Errand (1943)
  • Right Again Barnum (1943)
  • The End House (1944)
  • All Souls' Night (1948)
  • The Singing Bird (1948)
  • Down the Heather Glen (1953)
  • April in Assagh (1954)
  • The Drunken Sailor (1954)
  • Is the Priest at Home? (1954)
  • A Year in Marlfield (1965)


  • Red Is the Port Light (1948)
  • The Apprentice (1953)


  • Barnum Is Right (1938)
  • Elopement (1939)
  • The McCooeys (1948)

Complete filmography


  1. Smyth, Damian (November 2008). "Tomelty Country". Celebrating Strangford Lough. p. 1.
  2. "Interview From The Archive: Joseph Tomelty". Culture Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  3. "Joseph Tomelty". Irish Playography. Archived from the original on 2007-11-18. Retrieved 2008-11-28.
  4. melty-1586249.html
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