He was one of the greats.
Cork entertainer Billa O’Connell passed away this morning at the age of 91.
While he was best known for his annual pantomime dame performances at Cork Opera House, which he took on with glee each Christmas, his varied career earned him Freedom of the City and an honorary degree from University College Cork.
Born near The Lough on Christmas Day, 1929, he was a close friend of Jack Lynch, twice elected Taoiseach. He is survived by his wife Nell and his six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
RIP BILLA.. We are so saddened to hear of the passing of Cork legend and very good friend of the show Billa O’Connell. Billa passed away peacefully at 6.45am this morning. Thinking of Nell and all the family. A true Cork legend. RIP Billa. pic.twitter.com/uZakOq1nV4
— Neil Prendeville (@NeilRedFM) September 23, 2021
“I remember him as a small boy calling to the bar as a rep for Beamish’s, he always had biros, key rings or something for me and he’d entertain whoever was in the bar.” said publican Michael O’Donovan of The Castle Inn.
Local author and playwright Conal Creedon described Billa as “a very special man who brought so much joy to this city.”
I’ve just heard the sad news that Billa has passed to his eternal rest. A very special man who brought so much joy to this city.
Generous, kind and great fun. I was privileged to share his company during the making of my documentary “If it’s Spiced Beef” https://t.co/RtfP00zPDK
— Conal Creedon (@ConalCreedon) September 23, 2021
“Generous, kind, and great fun. I was privileged to share his company during the making of my documentary “If it’s Spiced Beef” he tweeted.
Speaking to Neil Prendeille on Red FM, Paddy O Brien said: “I loved him very much. His jokes were always very clean! He was a great man for supporting charities.”
Chair of the Everyman Theatre Board Denis McSweeney said his name “just Billa, is sufficient to bring a smiling, maybe tearful memory to mind.”
“He was, for many Corkonians, our first experience of the magic of theatre across the dazzle of the footlights. His career on the boards stretches over 70 years, including the old and new Opera House.
“Whether as a wit, a raconteur, a singer, or a performer, he had that power to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and to lead them through sadness, disappointment, shock, tears but above all laughter.”
A book of condolences is expected to be opened at City Hall in the coming days.