Actor, musician and writer Patrick Bergin shares highlights of his Hollywood career and tells Kay Doyle about his newly released song The Tipperary Waltz in which he pays homage to his great-uncle who fought in WWI.
From his unforgettable portrayal of a terrifying and abusive husband in one of Hollywood’s most memorable thrillers, to lighting up the small screen on the BBC’s popular soap opera Eastenders, Patrick Bergin has enjoyed an acting career that spans over thirty years, and the cameras are still rolling.
Born in Dublin’s Holles Street in 1951, and raised in Carlow town, he was the son of hard-working and aspirational parents. Drawn to Carlow as his grandfather was a stationmaster in the town, his mother ran a café there called The Sugarbowl; indeed ‘sugar’ would go on to have a prominent place in his family’s history.
His father, also Patrick, was the national campaign organiser for the Labour Party, eventually becoming a senator from 1954 to 1957. Patrick Senior led the famous sugar strike in Carlow, despite being threatened with twenty years in jail, and which ultimately led to the closure of the sugar factory.
After the conclusion of World War II, sugar was hot property in Ireland. Experts from Czechoslovakia were brought over to show the Irish labourers how to cook the sugar, which was a finely skilled process. Patrick Snr had cut a deal with Major General Costello that once the Irish workers were trained up to the same level as the Czech workers, they would be paid similar wages. When they reneged on this deal, he led them to strike.
“One day, when my father went to Leinster House to present a case for the sugar workers on equal pay to the Minister, he was sitting in the tea room waiting to be called when the tea lady brought him and his colleagues a cup of tea,” recalls Patrick Junior. “She apologised that she only had saccharine, and no sugar.
“’That’s because of those bowsies down in Carlow,’ my father said, testing her for a reaction. She snapped back, ‘Don’t you run down those fine men and what they are trying to do!’ It was his way of gauging the opinion of the general public, and it was a boost for their cause.”
In his spare time, away from politics, Patrick’s father founded a Little Theatre in Carlow town, the goal being to teach the workers to walk and talk more proudly. After the bitter strike, they moved to a place called Jerusalem in Co. Kildare, situated between Carlow and Athy, and then to Dublin. The Bergins lived for years above the Labour Party offices on Earlsfort Terrace, before moving to Drimnagh where they would eventually settle.
“I had three brothers and one sister,” says Patrick. “When I was four years old I turned to my mother and said, ‘Ma, I want to go to school.’ I had a good teacher called Mr. Muldoon in Our Lady of Good Counsel on Mourne Road, who encouraged us to put on plays and musicals which we acted out in the Bosco Club.
“My mother worked in the Gaiety Theatre and the first production I became involved was Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come. Literature ran through the household, and we were always encouraged to read the classics. My older brother, Emmet, also went into acting, many people would know him for his role as the scheming Dick Moran in Glenroe.”