Kings of The Kilburn High Road author speaks of his admiration for Mick Lally, his work with Red Kettle and his Thomastown roots

The last farewell as The Kings say farewell to Jackie Flavin. Cast members of ‘The Kings of The Kilburn High Road’ which opens at Thomastown Community Hall on March 17. From left: Michael Hayes, Eoghan Fingleton,Derek Dooley, Declan Taylor and Alan Grant. ( Photo: Ken McGuire)

As Lake Productions prepare to stage ‘The Kings of the Kilburn High Road’, The Kilkenny Observer met up with Dublin author, Jimmy Murphy to hear memories of his first production of ‘Kings’ with Red Kettle Theatre Company, his admiration for Galway actor Mick Lally and his Thomastown roots.

We met in O’Riada’s bar in Parliament Street. Jimmy Murphy, author of numerous plays, winner of many awards, member of Aosdána, and all round nice bloke.
Murphy smiles when he hears that Lake productions are presenting ‘The Kings’ in Thomastown.

“It’s sort of stange,” he says. “My great grandfather William Murphy was from Thomastown and moved to the heart of Camden Street in 1902. Unfortunately the census only goes back to 1904, so apart from knowing that he comes from Thomastown that’s all the information we have. Chances are we still have relatives there and hopefully we might learn of some relations. It’s a sort of coming home in a way, for me”

Jimmy remembers back to 2000 when he started rehearsals for ‘Kings’ in St Otteran’s Hospital in Waterford.

He admits that while rehearsals for all new plays are exciting the particular one with Red Kettle was especially special.

“You have to remember that Red Kettle was an acclaimed company and very much on top of their game. Apart from the fact that I respected their work and admired them”

Jimmy recalls meeting Red Kettle Artistic Director Jim Nolan, and after sending a script of his newly written play ‘The Kings’ the word came back that The Waterford crew were looking at staging his play.

“I was over the moon to be honest and not long after that I got word that Mick Lally was to take part.

Long before his Glenroe days I would have seen Mick in various Druid productions, and although it is very hard for me to get star struck , Lally was different, and if truth be told I was in awe of him.”

Jimmy recalls that anyone who ever met Mick Lally would agree that there was something unique about his personality.

“You could sit for hours listening to him talk about books, poetry, music and politics,” said Murphy.

“In a way, our rehearsal schedule mirrored the actors in the play. We would get the early train from Heuston on a Monday morning to Waterford, stay in digs and return home to Dublin on Friday.”

It is then that the Dublin author speaks of his roots. “On our journey home from Waterford, when the train stopped in Kilkenny, I would think of my great grandfather William Murphy, who emigrated in 1902 from Thomastown to Dublin. You’d wonder what family he left behind and what relations I might still have there”, the playwright mused.

As it was a first outing for his play, we ask if it was his ideas or those of Red Kettle that took shape.

“To be honest, as the weeks went by I watched in amazement as the characters I dreamt up began to emerge, and while the other actors had done incredible work on their parts, what excited me most was the Jap Kavanagh that Mick had started to inhabit. Gruff, effin and blinding, racist, violent but all with a dignity that made the complex character”.

So Lally was a favourable choice in the role of Jap Kavanagh, we queried.

“Oh, make no mistake about it” gushed Murphy, “Lally was set to astonish audiences on opening night”.

Jimmy then recalls the heartache of when things took a turn for the worse.

“Everything was in place. The set built; posters designed; tickets sold and the first preview only twenty four hours away and disaster struck just as we were about to start the dress rehearsal”

Murphy remembers noticing a dramatic change in Mick Lally’s appearance and how people were concerned about his health.

“We were to discover that Mick had pneumonia and was taken to hospital straight away.

With the preview only a night away Red Kettle and Jimmy Murphy were faced with a dilemma.

“We were to discover that Mick had pneumonia and was taken to hospital straight away.

We suggest to Murphy that it is every director’s nightmare.

“Ah yes. It was frightening. Naturally our first thoughts were with Mick and his family. It was eventually decided to postpone the opening night for two weeks to see if we could recast and maybe salvage the production.

Eventually, Sean Lawlor was flown in from Los Angeles, and somehow managed to learn the lines in those two week. It was an astonishing performance by Sean and the play went on to be a success and it still finds an audience today.”

We remind Jimmy that sadly Mick Lally and Sean Lawlor have passed on since then.

“Indeed,” say’s Murphy. “A terrible loss to both families, but to the theatre world also”.

“We have also seen the demise of Red Kettle Theatre Company”, continues Jimmy. “It was sinful when that happened. I was gutted for Jim Nolan and his team at Red Kettle who had put blood sweat and tears into growing the theatre company. Sinful.”

Our final question to Jimmy is to give us his best memory from the first outing of ‘Kings’ back in 2000.

“I suppose there is a special place in my heart for the late Mick Lally, and his character of Jap, the greatest performance never seen”

As we leave O’Riada’s on Parliament Street we ask Jimmy if we can expect to see him cheering on the Thomastown hurling team in the year ahead. “You’d never know he answered. Let’s see what comes out of the genealogy wood work”

Lake Productions present The Kings of The Kilburn High Road at the Thomastown Community Hall from March 17 for six performances .

Cast includes Michael Hayes, Eoghan Fingleton, Alan Grant , Declan Taylor and Derek Dooley. Director is Ger Cody.
Booking on


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