seamus dubhghaill

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

Birth of Stage & Screen Actor, Brefni O’Rorke

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Brefni O’Rorke, Irish actor, both on the stage and in movies, is born in Dollymount, Clontarf, Dublin, on June 26, 1889.

O’Rorke is born as William Francis Breffni O’Rorke at 2 Esplande Villas in Dollymount, and baptised at Clontarf Parish Church on August 1, 1889. His father, Frederick O’Rorke, is a cork merchant, and his mother, Jane Caroline O’Rorke (née Morgan), is an actress. He has an older brother, Frederick, who is twelve years older than him.

O’Rorke begins studying acting with his mother and makes his professional début in 1912 at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, in a production of George Bernard Shaw‘s John Bull’s Other Island. In 1916, while still living in Dublin, he meets and marries Alice Cole, a chorus-girl turned actress, who had divorced her first husband and immigrated from South Africa with her young son. Thus O’Rorke becomes the stepfather of Cyril Cusack. Other theatre roles include the title role in Finn Varra Maa (1917), a musical “pantomime” or light opera written by Thomas Henry Nally with music by Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer.

National Television starts in October 1936, initially broadcast just two hours a day. The station stops broadcasting at the start of World War II, and does not restart until 1946. Plays, like everything else, can last just one hour maximum, but some are only 25 minutes long. Also, there is no recording possible, so any repeat is really a new broadcast, as in The Advantages of Paternity.

In 1939 O’Rorke appears in several broadcasts in the new fledgling BBC television, including a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called The King of Spain’s Daughter, produced by Denis Johnston.

O’Rorke is a busy character actor up to his death on November 11, 1946, and his legacy lay not only in several memorable performances but also, to some extent, in the subsequent success of his stepson. From the late 1940s thru the 1980s, Cyril Cusack is one of the most renowned stage actors of his generation, as well as an acclaimed film actor, and he founds an acting dynasty to rival that of the Redgrave family through his actress daughters.


Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which is the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am a member of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (2010-Present, President 2011-2017) and a commissioner on the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission (2015-2020, 2021-Present, Chairman 2017-2018).

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