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Foul-mouthed Father Jack makes it into Ireland’s historical who’s who along with PJ Mara and Gillian Bowler


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The reference work, first published in nine volumes in 2009, is an intriguing compendium of Irish lives and of individuals who had a significant career in Ireland.

Produced by the Royal Irish Academy, it is now updated online every six months and the number of individuals included has grown to 11,000.

In order to be added to the dictionary, the individual has to be dead for at least five years and the decision to include a person perhaps marks the moment when they become an historical figure.

Some of the more fascinating passages in the dictionary are those that mention less well-known details of a subject’s life.

The entry for Frank Kelly, who died in February 2016, tells how he worked for a time as a journalist for the Irish Independent and was also a travelling salesman for the RTÉ Guide before he hit the big time as an actor and comedian.

At the Irish Independent, he was alone in the newsroom when news broke of John F Kennedy’s assassination — and had to race to alert senior editorial staff.

Kelly was the son of a cartoonist and when he was at school at Blackrock College, his father nurtured his talent as a musician at the expense of his academic work, and according to his dictionary entry, this led to years of resentment on the part of the performer. He played lead roles in school plays and musical shows.​

To anybody under 40, Kelly is best known for starring as Father Jack Hackett in Father Ted, but to older viewers he was already famous as one of the leading figures in the RTÉ satirical show of the 1970s, Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, which lampooned politicians.

And he hit the UK charts and was featured on Top of the Pops for his comedy monologue Christmas Countdown, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, featuring his character Gobnait O Lúnasa.

He once recalled the auditions for his role as the foul-mouthed hard-drinking priest in Father Ted, a part that made him a recognisable figure beyond Ireland.

The casting agents asked Kelly to shout expletives in the most idiosyncratic manner he could think of: “So I shouted the required words with wild gusto, slipping into what became Father Jack’s accent instinctively. They looked at each other and nodded in agreement, then turned to me and asked, ‘Well, would you do it?”’

One of the editors of the dictionary, Terry Clavin, says Gillian Bowler, founder of Budget Travel, is included for helping to create a mass market in Ireland for foreign sun holidays from the 1970s onwards.

London-born Bowler emigrated to Ireland in 1973, worked for various Dublin travel companies, but finding that they were averse to allowing women responsibilities, she started Budget Travel in modest circumstances in a one-room basement. She paid a monthly rent of £12 for the office.

She initially focused on Greece, then a destination overlooked by Irish tour operators. Bowler’s love for and knowledge of Greece was such that she found herself persuading callers of its attractions over the phone and tailoring suitable holidays. Her business grew through word of mouth and within three years she had become a tour operator.

As the dictionary puts it, Bowler lured the young, chic and adventurous with her cheap ‘wanderer’ packages, entailing flights on elderly turboprop aircraft followed by stays in a motley assortment of hostels, tavernas, village houses and pensions for two weeks of island-hopping. Over the years, Budget Travel thrived among young holidaymakers, broadening its range of destinations until it became the leading tour operator in the country.

As a skilled self-publicist, Bowler mastered a cheap, cheerful and cheeky approach to marketing long before Ryanair and Paddy Power. As the dictionary puts it: “Always photographed with sunglasses perched on her head, she projected an aura of style, sophistication and fun.”

The latest update to the dictionary also chronicles the life of PJ Mara, the PR man who died in January 2016.

As a close ally of Charles Haughey, he was perhaps the first political spin doctor operating in Ireland to become a household name — and that was largely due to his portrayal on the satirical radio show Scrap Saturday as a lackey pandering to the then taoiseach’s shabby delusions of grandeur.

According to the dictionary, Mara claimed to have developed his skills of persuasion to avoid harassment by other boys at school.

The dictionary records how Mara performed one of his most spectacular turns in the mid-1980s at a time when Fianna Fáil was riven by splits.

He was reported to have goose-stepped in front of a group of journalists while holding two fingers under his nostrils to resemble a Hitler moustache. He uttered a slogan linked with Benito Mussolini: “Uno Duce, una voce… in other words, we are having no more nibbling at my leader’s bum.”

The online version of the dictionary is published free online at DIB.ie

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