the distinguished Irish playwright, actor and director who has been for many years Patron of Ballymoney Drama Festival, Tomas MacAnna, has died, aged 87 years.
Mr Mac Anna passed away on Tuesday May 17 in St Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, and had been ill for a few weeks.
Born in Dundalk, Mr MacAnna joined the staff of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre in 1947 and became Artistic Director in 1966, a position he held for three terms.
His work in the Abbey gained him much fame and one of his most acclaimed productions was of Brendan Behan’s ‘Borstal Boy’. He took it to Broadway, where it played to packed audiences and the production won a Tony Award and the New York Critics’ Award.
He loved to come north to Ballymoney, to which he was first invited by Mr R.B. Price, secretary of Ballymoney Drama Festival, when he met Mr MacAnna visiting Brian Friel, the distinguished playwright, in Donegal.
Mr MacAnna first came to adjudicate Ballymoney Drama Festival in 1978 and in that year he was invited to be the Festival’s Patron.
This marked the beginning of a long relationship with north Antrim and he returned to adjudicate and to visit on a number of occasions.
Mr Alex Blair, the present Festival Secretary, became a close friend and they met often and corresponded over the years.
Mr Blair, when told of Mr McAnna’s death, said the amateur theatre in the North has lost a great encourager and champion.
Mr Blair expressed sympathy to Mr MacAnna’s wife and family and continued: “Tomas loved the lore of ancient Dalriada and always enjoyed his time in Ballymoney.”
He added: “Tomas MacAnna’s adjudications were performances in themselves, showing his vast knowledge of the theatre but also his ability to communicate with actors and audiences alike.
“He had a unique style and a wonderful turn of phrase. One of the great characters of the Irish theatre, he will be remembered with much affection and esteem by his many friends in Ballymoney.”