Irish actor Niall Tóibín died earlier this week at the age of 89. He is best known in this parish for his portrayal of Fr Mackay in the Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited. Acording to the obituary in the Irish Times:
Niall Toibin’s career encompassed comedy and straight roles, and over nearly six decades he was lauded for performances from Behan interpretations to touring solo shows. He was also a great raconteur, and often charmed the nation on the Late Late Show. He did a great line in priests, from formidable parish priest Fr Frank MacAnally in Ballykissangel, to psychopathic Fr Geraldo in Rat, to a gentler cleric in Brideshead Revisited.
He appeared only briefly in the final episode of the TV series. Fr Mackay is the Glasgow-Irish priest in Melstead, the nearest Roman Catholic church to Brideshead Castle. He is recalled to Brideshead by Julia Flyte to perform the last rites for Lord Marchmain. An earlier visit resulted in his being summarily dismissed by Lord Marchmain. The scene, as played by Tóibín, replays that described by Waugh in his Diaries at the deathbed of his Oxford friend Hubert Duggan. Duggan was a Roman Catholic from birth through his father, who died when Duggan was a child. Waugh called in a priest (Fr Devas) at Duggan’s request but the Protestant family, like Charles Ryder and Lord Marchmain’s doctor in the novel, are opposed to the ceremony. Fr Devas, the priest called in by Waugh and Fr Mackay in the novel, explain the ceremony in almost identical terms. In the Diary entry Fr Devas is recorded as saying:
‘Look all I shall do is to put oil on his forehead and say a prayer. Look, the oil is in this little box. Nothing to be frightened of.’ (Diaries, p. 553)
In the novel, Fr Mackay says:
…I want to anoint him. It is nothing, a touch of the fingers, just some oil from this little box, look, it is pure oil, nothing to hurt him. (London, 1945, p. 295)
The TV series followed the novel, as in most other cases when it came to dialogue (53:00).
Niall Tóibín, like most actors in the TV serial acted brilliantly in a performance that is easily recalled by anyone who has seen it. This is the case with so many of the secondary parts in the TV series that it makes one wish to watch it yet again. I am thinking of John Gielgud as Ryder’s father, Nikolas Grace as Anthony Blanche, Simon Jones as Bridey, and many others too numerous to mention.
One of those others who performed so memorably, however, should also be mentioned. This is Stephen Moore (1937-2019) who died last month. He played Charles Ryder’s Cousin Jasper in episode 1 of the TV series, also with notable success. According to IMDB: “He was an actor and director, known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981), Pirate Radio (2009) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).”