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Ireland mourns comic talent as 'Father Ted' actor dies, aged 45


THE Irish comedian and actor Dermot Morgan who died at the weekend was best-known in Britain for his portrayal of Father Ted in the eponymous, surreal Channel 4 comedy about three wayward priests banished to a bleak island.

Morgan, 45, collapsed at a dinner party at his London home on Saturday night. He died shortly afterwards from a suspected heart attack.

His earlier work in his own country arguably touched even greater heights, winning him mass public acclaim as Ireland's most subversive wit, but also eventual disapproval from faint-hearted media management.

In Ireland many felt Father Ted sometimes reflected a sharper mirror- image of today's Catholic Church than the rosier Ballykissangel.

Ted Crilly was by turns devious, cunning and disingenuous. Echoing the sex and embezzlement scandal involving the Bishop of Galway Eamon Casey, he was once reminded by fellow Craggy Island exile Father Dougal that parish funds had been traced back to his personal bank account.

Dougal : You took the money, Ted

Ted : It wasn't like that.

Dougal : It was in your account

Ted : It was only resting there.

But despite the success of the programme, Morgan had recently admitted that he was looking forward to taking off the dog collar and possibly returning to the comedy circuit.

"I wanted to get out of the dog collar because I've been doing priests for some time now. And I didn't want to be a Clive Dunn and do Grandad for the rest of my life," he said in an interview days before he died.

"Ted's been a great door opener for me and I'll miss him and certainly working with such a great cast, but I have to branch out."

He spoke vaguely about about having projects in the pipeline and a possible return to the comedy circuit.

"There's a great buzz about stand-up, I've always loved it and that's hard to turn your back on. But if a straight role came along I'd never say never."

The sitcom, which has turned the unpriestly curse of "feck" into a common catchphrase, is shown and loved in 10 countries and numbers Steven Spielberg and Madonna among its fans. U2's Bono requested a part in the series.

Father Ted's success was some consolation for the silencing of Scrap Saturday, Morgan's hugely successful Irish radio satirical show, scripted jointly with his equally politicised collaborator Gerry Stembridge.

Its finest moments came in the public pretensions of Charles J Haughey to international statesmanship, while hinting dangerously at seamy business links and the then-premier's abundant sexual appetites.

Morgan had a uncanny ability to get inside Haughey's head. The character's private utterances to his trusty lackey, press secretary PJ Mara, enabled Morgan to glory in Haughey's every intonation and bilious prejudice. The character became part-Napoleon, part-Godfather, and imperious symbol of the nation.

Morgan\Haughey would thus describe his nearest neighbours to as "a nation of nobodies driving around the English Midlands on Sunday afternoons in their Austin Allegros".

And venturing into distant Sligo grubbing for votes, Morgan/Haughey asked: "How come all my people look retarded, Mara?"

The current Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern (himself satirised mercilessly by Morgan), said yesterday that he was deeply shocked by the performer's death and called him a "Prince" among modern Irish comedians.

He said: "Dermot was one of the greatest entertainers ever produced by this country."