seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Joseph Tomelty, Actor & Playwright

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joseph-tomeltyJoseph Tomelty, Irish character actor and playwright, is born at Portaferry, County Down, on March 5, 1911. He works in film, television, radio, and on the stage, starring in Sam Thompson‘s 1960 play Over the Bridge.

Tomelty is the eldest of seven children. His father is known as “Rollickin’ James” for his skill on the fiddle. He leaves his local primary school at the age of 12 and is apprenticed to the trade of housepainter, his father’s trade. He moves to Belfast and attends classes at Belfast Technical College.

Tomelty first acts with St. Peter’s Players and with others in 1937 and 1938 takes part in discussions which lead to the formation of the Northern Ireland Players on a more professional basis. Radio plays Barnum is Right and Elopement are broadcast in December 1938 and February 1939 respectively. The Northern Ireland Players choose the stage version of Barnum is Right for their first major commercial venture at the Empire Theatre in June 1939.

In 1940 the Northern Ireland Players join forces with the Ulster Theatre and the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society to form the Group Theatre. In 1942 Tomelty becomes its general manager remaining in the post until 1951. His play, Idolatry at Innishargie, enjoys a short run at the Group Theatre in 1942, but The End House, a controversial political play, does not even appear there. The play deals with what he describes as “the inhumanity that resulted from the Special Powers Act.” It is however performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1944.

Meanwhile, his career as a character actor rapidly develops and a successful stage and film career is underway. In 1948 he is commissioned by the BBC in Belfast to write the weekly radio comedy drama series The McCooeys. This radio series lasts for seven years with Tomelty writing 6,000 word scripts for each episode. He continues to write plays, including his masterpiece, and a modern Irish theatre classic, All Souls’ Night in 1948.

In 1954 Tomelty is injured in an automobile accident while filming Bhowani Junction in England and, while he recovers, he is never as productive again. He dies in Belfast on June 7, 1995.

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