Educated at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, and University College, Dublin (UCD), Morgan comes to prominence as part of the team behind the highly successful RTÉ television show The Live Mike. Morgan makes his debut in the media on the Morning Ireland radio show produced by Gene Martin. Between 1979 and 1982 Morgan, who has been a teacher at St. Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road, plays a range of comic characters who appear between segments of the show, including Father Trendy, an unctuous trying-to-be-cool Catholic priest given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two-minute ‘chats’ to camera.
Morgan’s success as Father Trendy and other characters leads him to leave teaching and become a full-time comedian.
Morgan’s biggest Irish broadcasting success occurs in the late 1980s on the Saturday morning radio comedy show Scrap Saturday, which mocks Ireland’s political, business, and media establishment. The show’s treatment of the relationship between the ever-controversial Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his press secretary P.J. Mara prove particularly popular. When RTÉ axes the show in the early 1990s a national outcry ensues. Morgan lashes the decision, calling it “a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience.”
Already a celebrity in Ireland, Morgan’s big break comes in Channel 4‘s Irish sitcom Father Ted, which runs for three series from April 21, 1995 until May 1, 1998. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews audition many actors for the title role, but Morgan’s enthusiasm wins him the part.
Father Ted centres on three disparate characters. Father Ted Crilly, played by Morgan, lives a frustrated life trapped on the fictional Craggy Island. Irish TV comedy actor Frank Kelly plays Father Jack Hackett, a foul-mouthed and apparently brain-damaged alcoholic, while child-minded Father Dougal McGuire is played by comedian Ardal O’Hanlon. The three priests are looked after by their housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn, with whom Morgan had worked on Scrap Saturday. Father Ted enjoys widespread popularity and critical acclaim. In 1998, the show wins a BAFTA award for the best comedy, Morgan wins a BAFTA for best actor, and McLynn is named best actress.
On February 28, 1998, one day after recording the last episode of Father Ted, Morgan has a heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home in southwest London. He is rushed to hospital but dies soon afterwards. Morgan’s Requiem Mass in St. Therese’s Church in Mount Merrion, south Dublin, is attended by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, her predecessor, Mary Robinson, and by political and church leaders, many of whom had been the targets of his humour in Scrap Saturday. He is cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery and his ashes are buried in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery.