– the much-loved screen and stage star was like a ‘Christmas bear’, writes daughter, Sighle

When asked to write a piece to commemorate Niall, there was little point in recounting the list of his many achievements, it would only read like a blurb for a theatre programme and might seem a little self-congratulatory.

Suffice it to say that my Dad was a comic genius, a brilliant dramatic actor as evidenced by his portrayal of the Bull McCabe in the Abbey Theatre production that toured to Moscow in the eighties, an accomplished film actor as remembered in the Ballroom of Romance and the much-loved Fr. Mac in the BBC TV series BallyKissangel.

He was a star of stage, screen and radio! He was also synonymous with the role of Brendan Behan. It is not for me or try to assess his accomplishments, that is for others to do.

I picked up his autobiography to remind myself and gain some insight into that man that was my father.
Niall was an intensely private person and reveals little of his personal self in the book, quite paradoxical for someone who made his living in the public eye.

But then again Niall was always playing a part, we rarely saw the true Niall in public. In television interviews he often held back, giving sharp humorous answers, which revealed little of the inner Niall.

He often said that actors were boring people and that no audience was interested in acting as a process, or actor’s opinions.
Niall believed that the people paid to be entertained, and that, undoubtedly, is what he did.

His political satire was witheringly accurate, but he dished the dirt equally to all, the trick was never to be seen as biased, to remember that your audience was from all sections of the community.

I was privileged to work with him on several productions, in many guises; I stage managed him, worked as a script co-ordinator, acted with him and even directed him, in so far as that was possible. We worked well together, he was a hard task-master, but many of the greats are.

Many lamented the fact that he died just 10 days before his 90th Birthday. Niall was not a sentimental person, and he paid little attention to birthdays. In fact, birthdays were treated so casually by both Judy and Niall that they totally forgot my sister Fiana’s 12th birthday.

It was only when her godfather, the late Brendan Cauldwell (Fair City) turned up with a gift that they twigged that it was a significant day for their youngest child. So not surprisingly I have few memories of us celebrating Dad’s birthday.
On this first Christmas without him, I take solace from fond memories of Christmas with Niall Tóibín.

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