Donal Donnelly

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Donal Donnelly
Donal Donnelly 2.jpg
Drawing by Reginald Gray. Dublin. 1956.
Born (1931-07-06)6 July 1931[1]
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Died 4 January 2010(2010-01-04) (aged 78)[1]
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1957–1999
Home town Dublin, Ireland
Spouse(s) Patricia "Patsy" Porter

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]


He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, but brought up in Dublin, Ireland. His father James was a doctor from County Tyrone, and his mother Nora O'Connor was a teacher from County Kerry.[3]

Donal Donnelly 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.

Poster for his double role in Nekrassov by Jean-Paul Sartre. Gate Theatre, Dublin. 1956.

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".[citation needed]

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
1957 The Rising of the Moon Prisoner Sean Curran "Jimmy Walsh"
1958 Gideon's Day Feeney
1959 Shake Hands with the Devil Willie Lafferty
1959 I'm All Right Jack Perce Carter
1963 The Informers Tommy the Trotter Uncredited
1965 Young Cassidy 1st Hearseman
1965 The Knack ...and How to Get It Tom
1965 Up Jumped a Swagman Bockeye
1970 The Mind of Mr. Soames Joe Allan
1970 Waterloo O'Connor
1987 The Dead Freddy Malins
1989 Twister Doctor
1990 The Godfather Part III Archbishop Gilday
1994 Mesmer Doctor
1994 Squanto: A Warrior's Tale Brother Paul
1994 Words Upon the Window Pane Cornelius Patterson
1995 Korea John Doyle
1998 This Is My Father John Maney
1998 Love and Rage Sweeney


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Coveney, Michael (7 January 2010). "Donal Donnelly obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "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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