Saturday, April 30, 2011

Australian death severs family link with Kilcullen

The recent death in Australia of a woman born in Kilcullen in 1918 ended the direct link with the town for an Australian actor who counts among his credits the TV series 'Home and Away', many films and stage plays, and the voice of an alien, Lama Su in 'Star Wars'.

She was born 93 years ago Margaret Mary Phelan, writes Brian Byrne, the daughter of a saddler working for Berneys at the time, and aunt to actor Anthony Phelan, who today lives in Sydney.

Margaret Mary Phelan, later better known to her extended family as Aunt Stella, sailed for Queensland with her brother, Anthony's father William, and their parents William O'Brien Phelan and his wife.

William Phelan Snr left his job in Berneys and emigrated because he felt he could no longer live in a 'divided Ireland', according to Anthony.

"They found the situation with the division of Ireland intolerable," he says. "The family of four on a long boat trip, and the life of the Phelans in North Queensland Australia began. Kilcullen to the tropics of North Queensland was surely testament to their disquiet toward Irish politics."

Anthony came to visit Kilcullen about ten years ago, and was brought to Berneys Saddlery by Geraldine Gahan.

"They showed him the place where his grandfather worked and the stairs he went up and down every day," she recalls. "He had his photo taken with them and then we were mobbed on the street by a lot of schoolchildren, who recognised him as a character from 'Home and Away' which was very popular at the time. Never having watched it, I didn't realise who I was showing around!"

The character in question was 'Roo'. Anthony has a very distinctive voice and has worked on documentaries, films, plays and commercials for some 30 years. Theatre credits include 'Julius Caesar', 'Holy Day', 'Oedipus', 'Fireface', 'Mourning Becomes Electra', 'The Three Sisters', 'The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll' and 'The Caretaker'. Film credits include, 'Black Balloon', 'Acolytes', and 'Defiance'.

Before the family emigrated, the Phelans used to live at the bottom of the hill in Kilcullen, close to William Snr's place of work.

"Myself and my siblings, and extended family, have always held a close affinity with Kilcullen, albeit thousands of kilometres away," Anthony says. "We are all feeling saddened by the loss of this wonderful woman, a true daughter of Ireland, and also saddened by the loss of our last tie with Kilcullen."

This article was first published in The Kildare Nationalist.