IRISH PHOTO ARCHIVE

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Jimmy O'Dea: linking the Gaiety pantomime to James Bond

Jimmy O’Dea was one of Ireland’s best-known actors, the Brendan O’connor of his day. O’Dea featured in several TV shows, such as The Signal Box with David Kelly, and spearheaded many Gaiety pantomines. His most popular character was Biddy Mulligan, an inner Dublin city market trader who was perhaps part of the inspiration behind Mrs Brown.

Jimmy O'Dea beside a poster for one of his Gaiety performances
17 December 1952
O’Dea was a regular customer at Neary’s, a pub in Chatham St just off Grafton Street in Dublin. He would often pop around from the Gaiety for a drink, so much so that he had a favourite seat. Trinity students would often take fresher students to Neary’s, place them in O’Dea’s seat and wait for the man himself to make his appearance and turf the innocent trespassers out.

Maureen Potter and Jimmy O'Dea
3 July 1957
O’Dea appeared often with Maureen Potter, another much-loved Irish comedian. When O’Dea married Ursula Doyle, another actress, Potter was the bridesmaid. Interestingly, Seán Lemass was O’Dea’s best man, having been a classmate of his at the Christian Brothers’ school in Richmond Street Dublin. Lemass also gave the oration at O’Dea’s funeral in 1965.

Jimmy with his wife Ursula at the world premier of Darby O'Gill and the Little People
24 June 1959
But internationally, O’Dea will instantly be recognized as Darby O’Gill from the Hollywood film, DarbyO’Gill and the Little People. It’s not a film that is regularly shown any more, on Irish TV at least, and is often derided for its stage ‘Oirishness’, but was well received by critics on its release. It was also the film that brought Sean Connery to the attention to the Hollywood directors, and helped him on his way to the James Bond role.

It’s not often you find James Bond linked to the Gaiety pantomines, now, is it?