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Edmund (Birdy) Sweeney (1931 - 1999):

'Birdy' Sweeney

Birdy Sweeney came from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, one of ten children from a poor family. Aged eleven he took part in a BBC talent competition in Belfast, performing bird impersonations on the radio. His astonishing ability earned him both a nickname and a living on the club circuit in the Ireland of the 1960s and 70s. Short and angular, the name ‘Birdy’ suited him.

He came late to acting, aged 56, and was noted for a quiet, gimlet humour that appealed to screen directors such as Stephen Frears in The Snapper’ Neil Jordan in The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy, and latterly Alan Parker in Angela's Ashes. On stage he delighted audiences in the major theatres throughout Ireland, and in the Donmar and Tricycle theatres in London. His talent for creating laughter came to television in the late 1980s, on live satirical shows for BBC Northern Ireland, when he delivered comic homilies in the manner of a certain Roman Catholic bishop,

When the BBC created Ballykissangel, the whimsical Irish television series, it was obvious his gift for deadpan comedy should contribute to its popularity, and he made the role of farmer Eamon Byrne his own. Birdy appeared in the Channel 4 comedy Father Ted, another appropriate fit for his humorous style, and in contrast in the BBC’s bleak Irish Famine drama The Hanging Gale. He died ‘in work’, about to record an episode of Ballykissangel.

Born: 12 June 1931
Died: 9 May 1999
Chris Spurr