More albums from St. Vincent’s on Sean McDermott Street. This one is a collection of the best sketches of comic duo, Jimmy O’Dea and Harry O’Donovan. The following comes from the album sleeve notes, written by Matthew Murtagh:-
“Born in Lower Bridge Street in the heart of old Dublin - not far from “Biddy Mulligan´s” Coombe - on April 28th, 1899, Jimmy O’Dea was one of eleven children, four of whom went on the stage. His mother ran a small toy shop to supplement the earnings of his father, who worked as an ironmonger. Given the benefit of a first-class education and having been blooded with an amateur dramatic company, the Kilronan Players, Jimmy plucked up enough courage to suggest to his parents that his future might lie in a careers as an actor. His father gave him a stern look: “son, I´d rather see you in your coffin.” Instead he was apprenticed to an optician. Undeterred he continued with his stage work and ambitions, graduating to the Irish theatre in Hardwicke Street and a propitious association with actor-producer John McDonagh, in whose company he recalled, amongst other roles, that of the old man-servant, Firs, in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” in 1920. When, shortly after, MacDonagh produced his comedy play, “The Irish Jew” at the Empire (now Olympia) Theatre, he gave the young actor a choice cameo role to portray, one which proved to be the laughter hit of the evening.
“Around this period he qualified as an optician, and still only 21 set up his own business (later hen he became a full-time actor this enterprise was disposed of to his sister, Rita). After a season with Madame Kirdwood-Hackett´s Repertory Company at the Abbey Theatre in George Bernard Shaw plays, Jimmy rejoined MacDonagh to appear in his Irish revues, the first of which, “Dublin To-Night”, was produced at the Queen’s Theatre on February 4th, 1924. In a new edition of the same revue at the Olympia Theatre the following August he donned female attire for the first time when he took the part of the landlady in a sketch, “Our Visitors”, which was such a success before packed houses that by popular demand it had to be repeated in a subsequent revue, “Next Stop, Darling”. In unbounded versatility of character acting, ranging from Napoleon to the country lad “up on the last load”, Jimmy O’Dea rapidly rose to the rank of “Ireland’s Representative Comedian”. During the 1927 he went on his first English tour in MacDonagh’s revue, “The Goods”, only to learn on his return that John MacDonagh, who had made him a star, was about to emigrate to America. But the gloomy news was forgotten after a fortunate encounter with fellow-Dubliner Harry O’Donovan. A chance meeting in a Dublin street of those two actors, whose paths had crossed in several stage plays some years earlier, brought a partnership sealed with a handshake and a bottle of stout in the nearest pub. Practically broke - Harry had to sell his piano - they scraped up enough money (?20) to launch their first show, a revue “we’re Here” at the Queens Theatre in April 1928.”
“The passing of Jimmy O’Dea on January 7th 1965, left a void which may never be filled, for he was undoubtedly the greatest native comedian who ever graced the footlights. Although no more than 5 feet 4 inches in height, he was a giant of the Irish theatrical scene. Harry O’Donovan outlived his partner by several years, his death taking place on November 3rd, 1973.”
Jimmy O’Dea´s family moved to Capel street, some time after the start of the century. They are listed in the 1911 census as living at 162 Capel Street, Dublin. It was while living there that O’Dea became friends with future Taoiseach, Sean Lemass - O’Dea would later serve as best man at Lemass’ wedding.
Below are four tracks from the album, plus a recording of James Joyce reading “Anna Livia Plurabelle”. The similarities between the musical intonations of O’Dea’s Biddy Mulligan, and Joyce’s Anna Livia washerwomen, are quite noticeable. Not surprising, as both were drawing off the same source.