Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2023), News, Volume 31

By Ivor Casey

Above: Godfrey Quigley in Educating Rita, shot in Trinity College, Dublin, in 1983. (Columbia Pictures)

With his domineering physique and commanding voice, actor Godfrey Quigley’s contribution to the world of drama is one that easily garners admiration and a reason to be honoured. From his roles in the Abbey Theatre playing the nasty deputy governor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1978) and the prison governor in Brendan Behan’s The Quare Fellow (1962) to his performance in the British crime drama Get Carter (1971), Quigley mastered playing mainly tough and hardy characters, which highlighted his tremendous stage presence.

This year marks what would have been the 100th birthday of the Irish actor, who was born on 4 May 1923 in Jerusalem, Palestine, and raised in Rush, Co. Dublin. He was born to Lillian Broderick and Eugene Patrick Quigley, originally from County Sligo. His father joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fought in the First World War, for which he was decorated with the Military Cross and rose to the rank of captain. After the war he joined the Palestine Police Force.

Godfrey returned to Ireland when he was thirteen and attended Belvedere College but at sixteen lost his father, who was tragically struck by a bus while in London. Following school, his desire to study law at Trinity College was dashed by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid’s ban on Catholics attending the college. Subsequently, Quigley enlisted in the RAF, seeing action during the Second World War.

After the war he set his sights on acting, studying with the Abbey Theatre School under the tutelage of actor and teacher Ria Mooney. He soon appeared in performances at the Abbey and Gate theatres. He also earned the small part of Colin in the film Saints and Sinners in 1949.

With the collaboration of others, including Norman Rodway, Quigley helped set up the Globe Theatre in Dún Laoghaire with the support of his wife, actress and writer Genevieve Lyons, with whom he had a daughter, Michelle. Up and running by the mid-1950s, the Globe counted on the skills of Michael O’Herlihy, who worked on set design, and many performers, including Milo O’Shea, Maureen Toal, Denis Brennan and Pamela Duncan. Its aim was to bring new and innovative productions to the Irish stage, with some ending up in the Gate, Gaiety and Olympia theatres. These works included The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy and The Bishop’s Bonfire by Seán O’Casey.

Having established himself as a stage actor, Quigley began to find work in movies and was frequently cast in bit parts in a series of British productions. In 1957 he appeared in The Rising of the Moon, directed by John Ford. He featured in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), based on the famous Dr Who TV series, and in the Disney adventure Guns in the Heather (1969), featuring Hollywood child star Kurt Russell. He worked with Michael Caine in Get Carter (1971) and appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975). He was later cast as Rita’s father in Educating Rita (1983).

Quigley also gained regular work on British TV, often playing formidable characters in guest roles in over 50 different shows, such as The Avengers (1961–9) and The Saint (1962–9), as well as police drama Z Cars (1962–78), Disraeli (1978), in which he played Daniel O’Connell, The Year of the French (1982), set during the 1798 Rebellion, and The Irish R.M. (1983–5). He also appeared in a range of TV movies, including The Flame is Love (1979), directed by his Globe Theatre colleague Michael O’Herlihy.

Always dedicated to the art of acting, Quigley was frequently to be seen on stage at the Abbey Theatre, which became a regular platform from the late 1970s with his appearances in Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw, The Gigli Concert and A Whistle in the Dark by Tom Murphy, Endgame by Samuel Beckett and The Gentle Island by Brian Friel, to name just a few.

Frequently crossing back and forth between TV, cinema and the stage, his final television appearance was in Lost Belongings (1987) and his final movie was voicing Terrier in the animated classic All Dogs go to Heaven (1989). His last performance on stage was in Ulysses in Nighttown in 1990 at the Peacock Theatre.

He died on 7 September 1994 in Dublin after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Having long since separated from his wife, Quigley’s partner at the time was actress Liz Davis, who took care of him in his final years. In what would now have been his centenary year it’s important to note how Quigley’s efforts made a remarkable contribution to the history of Irish theatre. From his acting performances across varied media to his work encouraging and reinvigorating the Irish theatre scene with fresh new productions, Godfrey Quigley is certainly a name to be remembered in the annals of Ireland’s arts and entertainment industry.

Ivor Casey is a freelance journalist of history and the arts and author of Elvis and Ireland (Appello Press, 2013).


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