Cyril Cusack

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Cyril Cusack
Cyryl Cusack La mala ordina.png
Cusack in The Italian Connection (1972)
Cyril James Cusack

(1910-11-26)26 November 1910
Died7 October 1993(1993-10-07) (aged 82)
Occupation(s)Actor, voice actor, stage director
Years active1918–1993
(m. 1945; died 1977)

Mary Rose Cunningham
(m. 1979)
Children6, including Sinéad, Sorcha, Niamh, Pádraig and Catherine Cusack
RelativesRichard Boyd Barrett
Max Irons

Cyril James Cusack[1] (26 November 1910 – 7 October 1993) was an Irish[2][3] stage and screen actor with a career that spanned more than 70 years. During his lifetime, he was considered one of Ireland’s finest thespians,[4] and was renowned for his interpretations of both classical and contemporary theatre, including Shakespearean roles as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and over 60 productions for the Abbey Theatre, of which he was a lifelong member. In 2020, Cusack was ranked at number 14 on The Irish Times' list of Ireland's greatest film actors.[5]

Born to Irish parents in South Africa and raised in County Tipperary, Cusack dropped out of law school to join the Abbey Theatre and remained with the company for 13 years, acting in over 60 plays. In London, he performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, and later founded his own company which toured across Europe. Making his film debut at age 8, Cusack worked with many top British directors, including Powell & Pressburger, Carol Reed, Peter Brook, Peter Hall, and Anthony Harvey. He co-starred opposite Richard Burton several times, who once commended Cusack’s acting as “always himself and yet always totally different.” Fluent in both English and Irish, Cusack had a starring role in the very first Irish-language feature film, Poitín (1978).

He was the patriarch of the Cusack acting family, as the father of Sinéad Cusack, Sorcha Cusack, Niamh Cusack, Pádraig Cusack, and Catherine Cusack.

Early life and education[edit]

Cusack was born in Durban, Natal, South Africa. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), was an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, was an Irish mounted policeman in Natal Colony, South Africa.[1][2] His parents separated when he was young and his mother took him to England, and then to Ireland. Cusack's mother and her partner, Brefni O'Rorke, joined the O'Brien and Ireland Players.

Cyril made his first stage performance at the age of seven. He was educated at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, then read law at University College Dublin. He left without a degree and joined the Abbey Theatre in 1932.



Between then and 1945, he performed in over 60 productions for the Abbey,[6] particularly excelling in the plays of Seán O'Casey. He also performed in plays by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy Katie Roche[7] and The King of Spain's Daughter.[8] In 1932 he also joined the Gate Theatre company, appearing with them in many notable productions over the years. In 1947, Cusack formed his own company, Cyril Cusack Productions, and staged productions in Dublin, Paris and New York.

In 1963, Cusack joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and appeared there for several seasons. By this stage he had established a successful career in films, which had started at the age of eight. The same year, Cusack won a Jacob's Award for his performance in the Telefís Éireann production of Triptych.[9]

Cusack's favorite roles included The Covery in The Plough and the Stars and Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World, which he reprised numerous times.

Cusack's last stage performance was in Chekhov's Three Sisters (1990), in which three of his daughters played the sisters.

Film and television[edit]

Cusack in the trailer for The Elusive Pimpernel (1950).

Cusack made his film debut in Knocknagow (1918), when he was only 8. His breakthrough role was as a wiry IRA getaway driver opposite James Mason in Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947).

Cusack played the titular role in the Galileo (1968), which was the directorial debut of Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani. Cusack returned to Italy several times throughout his career, particularly in the 1970s, both acting on-camera and working as a voice artist, helping create English-language dubs of Italian films.

Cusack, who was bilingual in English and Irish, had a leading part in the controversial Irish language film Poitín (1977).

He appeared in the 1989 TV adaptation of Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World alongside his son-in-law Jeremy Irons and his grandson Samuel.

Personal life[edit]

Cusack was twice married:

Paul (1946) worked as a producer with RTE
Sinéad (1948) actress
Sorcha (1949) actress
Niamh (1959) actress
Pádraig (1962) associate producer at the National Theatre in London.[10]
  • Mary Rose Cunningham (1979–1993)
Catherine (1968) actress

Cusack was a strong supporter of Irish nationalism, and often selected projects based on those beliefs. In later life, Cusack became a campaigner for conservative causes in Ireland, notably in his opposition to abortion, where he became a frequent letter-writer to the main liberal Irish newspaper, The Irish Times.

Regarding his Catholic faith,[11] he commented "Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God."[12] His religious credentials came under scrutiny following his death and the revelation that he had been unfaithful in his first marriage, with a long-term mistress, Mary Rose Cunningham, who bore him a daughter, Catherine. Cusack married Cunningham following his first wife's death.

Cusack received honorary doctorates in 1977 and 1980 from the NUI and the University of Dublin respectively.

Cusack was a longtime friend of Irish attorney general, Chief Justice and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, whom he got to know when they were students at University College Dublin in the early 1930s.[13]

Cusack is the maternal grandfather of Irish Socialist Workers Party TD Richard Boyd Barrett and English actor Max Irons.


In October 1993, Cusack died at home in Chiswick,[14] Greater London, from MND.[A]



Year Title Role Director(s) Other notes
1918 Knocknagow Brian's child Fred O'Donovan
1935 Guests of the Nation IRA member Denis Johnston
1936 Servants All Billy Alex Bryce Short film
1941 Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It Postal Sorter Walter Forde
Once a Crook Bill Hopkins Herbert Mason
1947 Odd Man Out Pat Carol Reed
1948 Escape Rodgers Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Esther Waters Fred Ian Dalrymple, Peter Proud
1949 Once a Jolly Swagman Duggie Jack Lee
The Small Back Room Corporal Taylor Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
The Blue Lagoon James Carter Frank Launder
1949 All Over the Town Gerald Vane Derek Twist
1950 The Elusive Pimpernel Citizen Chauvelin Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Gone to Earth Edward Marston
1951 Soldiers Three Private Dennis Malloy Tay Garnett
The Secret of Convict Lake Edward "Limey" Cockerell Michael Gordon
The Blue Veil Frank Hutchins Curtis Bernhardt
1953 Saadia Khadir Albert Lewin
1954 The Last Moment Daniel O'Driscoll Lance Comfort Segment: "The Sensible Man"
Destination Milan Paddy O'Clafferty Lawrence Huntington
1955 Passage Home Bohannon Roy Ward Baker
1956 The Man Who Never Was Cab Driver Ronald Neame
The Man in the Road Dr. Kelly Lance Comfort
The March Hare Lazy Mangan George More O'Ferrall
Jacqueline Mr. Flannagan Roy Ward Baker
The Spanish Gardener Garcia Philip Leacock
1957 Ill Met by Moonlight Captain Sandy Rendel Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
The Rising of the Moon Inspector Michael Dillon John Ford Segment: "The Majesty of the Law"
Miracle in Soho Sam Bishop Julian Amyes
1958 Gideon's Day Herbert "Birdie" Sparrow John Ford
Floods of Fear Peebles Charles Crichton
1959 Shake Hands with the Devil Chris Noonan Michael Anderson
1960 A Terrible Beauty Jimmy Hannafin Tay Garnett
1961 Johnny Nobody Prosecuting Counsel O'Brien Nigel Patrick
1962 Waltz of the Toreadors Dr. Grogan John Guillermin
I Thank a Fool Captain Ferris Robert Stevens
1963 80,000 Suspects Father Maguire Val Guest
1965 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Control Martin Ritt
1966 Where the Spies Are Rosser Val Guest
I Was Happy Here Hogan Desmond Davis
Fahrenheit 451 Captain Beatty François Truffaut
1967 The Taming of the Shrew Grumio Franco Zeffirelli
1968 Galileo Galileo Galilei Liliana Cavani
Oedipus the King The Messenger Philip Saville
1970 Country Dance Dr. Maitland J. Lee Thompson
King Lear Duke of Albany Peter Brook
Tam-Lin Vicar Julian Ainsley Roddy McDowall
1971 Sacco & Vanzetti Frederick Katzmann Giuliano Montaldo
Harold and Maude Glaucus Hal Ashby
1972 Execution Squad Ernesto Stolfi Steno
The Italian Connection Corso Fernando Di Leo
...All The Way, Boys! Matto Giuseppe Colizzi
1973 The Bloody Hands of the Law The Judge Mario Gariazzo
The Day of the Jackal The Gunsmith Fred Zinnemann
The Homecoming Sam Peter Hall Reprised role from 1965 West End production
A Likely Story Tom William Kronick
1974 Run, Run, Joe! Parkintosh Giuseppe Colizzi
The Balloon Vendor The Balloon Vendor Mario Gariazzo
Juggernaut Major O'Neill Richard Lester Uncredited
The Abdication Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna Anthony Harvey
1975 Children of Rage Mr. Shalom Arthur Allan Seidelman
1976 Fear in the City Giacomo Masoni Giuseppe Rosati
1978 Poitín Michil Bob Quinn
1981 Lovespell Gormond of Ireland Tom Donovan
True Confessions Cardinal Danaher Ulu Grosbard
1982 The Outcasts Myles Keenan Robert Wynne-Simmons
1983 The World of Don Camillo The Bishop Terence Hill
Wagner Salomon Sulzer Tony Palmer
1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four Charrington Michael Radford
1986 The Ballroom of Romance Mr. Dwyer Pat O'Connor
1987 Little Dorrit Frederick Dorrit Christine Edzard
1989 My Left Foot Lord Castlewelland Jim Sheridan
1990 The Fool The Ballad Seller Christine Edzard
1992 Far and Away Danty Duff Ron Howard
As You Like It Adam Christine Edzard


Year Title Role Other notes
1953-56 Rheingold Theatre Various 5 episodes
1959 DuPont Show of the Month David Wylie Episode: "What Every Woman Knows"
The Moon and Sixpence Dr. Coutras Television film
1960 ITV Play of the Week Doctor Episode: "The Enchanted"
Armchair Mystery Theatre Stan Bracey Episode: "The Dummy"
1961 The Power and the Glory Tench Television film
1962 The Chairs The Old Man
Somerset Maugham Hour Wilson Episode: "The Lotus Eater"
ITV Play of the Week The Devil Episode: "Don Juan in Hell"
1963 Playhouse Mr. Berry Episode: "The Wedding Dress"
1963-64 Festival Krapp / Thomas Becket / Father 3 episodes
1964 Drama 61-67 Harold Petley Episode: "The Big Toe"
1965 Deirdre Conchubar Television film
1965-77 BBC Play of the Month Mr. Fielding / Waiter Episodes: "Passage to India" & "You Can Never Tell"
1967 Dial M for Murder Chief Inspector Hubbard Television film
Thirty-Minute Theatre Jumbo Boylan Episode: "A Time of Wolves and Tigers"
1968 Omnibus The Whisky Priest Episode: "Graham Greene: The Hunted Man"
1969 Red Peppers Bert Bentley Television film
David Copperfield Barkis
1970 On Trial Marshal Philippe Pétain Episode: "Marshal Pétain - A Matter of Honour"
The Sinners The Monsignor Episode: "The Bosom of the Country"
1971 Poet Game Dr. Saunders Television film
Shirley's World Charlie Episode: "The Reunion"
1972 Clochemerle Mayor Barthelemy Piechut Miniseries; 6 episodes
The Golden Bowl Bob Assingham
Them Coat Sleeves 5 episodes
The Hands of Cormac Joyce Mr. Reece Television film
1973 Orson Welles Great Mysteries Mr. White Episode: "The Monkey's Paw"
ITV Sunday Night Theatre Father Manus Episode: "Catholics"
1976 BBC2 Playhouse Adler Episode: "The Mind Beyond: The Man with the Power"
1977 Thursday Play Date Fox Melarkey Episode: "Crystal and Fox"
Jesus of Nazareth Yehuda Miniseries; 4 episodes
Jackanory The Storyteller 5 episodes
1978 Les Misérables Fauchelevent Television film
1980 Strumpet City Father Giffley Miniseries; 6 episodes
Cry of the Innocent Tom Moloney Television film
1980-84 Tales of the Unexpected Michael Fish / Percy Hampton Episodes: "The HItch-Hiker" & "Accidental Death"
1981 The Little World of Don Camillo Narrator (voice) 13 episodes
No Country for Old Men Tom Sheridan Television film
Maybury Mac Episode: "Maisie and Mac"
Andrina Captain Bill Torvald Television film
1982 The Kingfisher Hawkins
1982 The Ghost Downstairs Mr. Fishbane
1983 Death of an Expert Witness Mr. Lorimer Miniseries; 2 episodes
Glenroe Uncle Peter
One of Ourselves Quigley Television film
BBC/Time-Life Shakespeare Aegeon Episode: "The Comedy of Errors"
1984 Two by Forsyth Television film
Play for Today Mr. Reed Episode: "Rainy Day Women"
Dr. Fischer of Geneva Steiner Television film
1986 Robin of Sherwood Agravaine Episode: "The Inheritance"
The Theban Plays by Sophocles Priest Episode: "Oedipus the King"
1988 The Ray Bradbury Theater Dr. Jeffers Episode: "The Small Assassin"
Menace Unseen Mr. Simmondson Miniseries; 3 episodes
The Tenth Man The Priest Television film
1989 Danny, the Champion of the World Doc Spencer
1992 Screen Two Percy Episode: "Memento Mori"
1993 The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles George Clemenceau Episode: "Paris, May 1919"

Theatre credits[edit]

With the Abbey Theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Other notes Refs.
1932 The Vigil The Boy [15]
Wrack Hughie Boyle [15]
1933 Drama at Inish Michael [15]
1934 Parnell of Avondale Countryman [15]
Macbeth Malcolm [15]
Six Characters in Search of an Author The Son [15]
At Mrs. Beams Colin Langford [15]
1935 Candida Marchbanks [15]
Noah Japheth [15]
Summer's Day Curran [15]
The King of Spain's Daughter Jim Harris [16][17][15]
An Páistín Fionn N/A As director [18][15]
1936 Coriolanus Titus Larius [15]
Boyd's Shop Andy [15]
Katie Roche Jo Mahoney [15]
The Passing Day Hind [15]
The Silver Jubilee John Joseph Barrett [15]
The Jailbird Mr. Bunton [15]
1937 Shadow and Substance O'Flingsley [15]
Quin's Secret Quin [15]
Killycreggs in Twilight Loftus de Lury [15]
The Patriot Dan Cusack [15]
The Man in the Cloak Mangan [15]
The Invincibles Kelly [15]
An Phíb Fé Sna Bántaibh N/A As director [19]
Cartney and Kevney Cartney [15]
She Had to Do Something Neddy [15]
An tÉirighe Amach N/A As director [20][15]
Aon-Mhac Aoife Alban N/A [21][15]
1938 Bird's Nest Hyacinth [22][15]
1939 Give Him a House Pat Hooey [15]
They Went by Bus John Joe Martin [15]
1942 The Storm Cuiliogan [23][15]
1943 An Traona sa Mhóinfhéar An 'Máistir' [24][15]
Faustus Kelly Town Clerk [15]
The Bride Dr. Jack Power O'Connor [15]
Poor Man's Miracle Joseph [15]
1944 The Wise Have Not Spoken Francis [15]
The New Regime Jim M'Cuttack [15]
The Shadow of a Gunman Mr. Gallagher [15]
The Plough and the Stars The Covey [15]
Grogan and the Ferret Mr. Dobbin [15]
Sodar I nDiaidh na nUasal Dorante [15]
The Jailbird Mr. Bunton [15]
Shadow and Substance Dermot Francis O'Flingsley [15]
Old Road Myles Cosgrave [15]
The Player Queen Stage Manager [15]
The Whiteheaded Boy Denis [15]
Boyd's Shop John Haslett [15]
The End House Seumas [15]
1945 Juno and the Paycock Johnny Boyle [15]
Rossa Judge Keogh [15]
Tenants at Will Dawson [15]
The Plough and the Stars The Covey [15]
The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon [15]
1966 Recall The Years Performer [15]
1967-68 The Shaughraun Conn [15]
1968 The Cherry Orchard Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev [15]
1970 Hadrian the Seventh Frederick William Rolfe [15]
1974-75 The Vicar of Wakefield Dr. Primrose [15]
1976 The Plough and the Stars Fluther Good [15]
1978 Uncle Vanya Ivan Petrovich Voinitsky [15]
You Never Can Tell Walter [15]
1979 A Life Desmond Drumm [15]
1980 John Bull's Other Island Father Peter Keegan [15]
A Life Desmond Drumm [15]
1984 The Merchant of Venice Shylock [15]
1989 The Lower Depths Luka [15]

With the Gate Theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Other notes Refs.
1933 A Bride for the Unicorn Egbert the Eccentric
1935 A Deuce O' Jacks Various characters
1940 Les Parents terribles Michel
1942 Tar Éis an Aifrinn N/A As playwright [25]
1945 Tareis an Aifrinn Also playwright
1990 Three Sisters Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin [26][27]

With the National Theatre Company[edit]

Year Title Role Other notes Refs.
1964 Andorra Can At The Old Vic
1974 The Tempest Antonio
Spring Awakening Masked Man
1977 The Plough and the Stars Fluther Good At the Royal National Theatre

With the Royal Shakespeare Company[edit]

Year Title Role Other notes Refs.
1963 The Physicists Johann Wilhelm Stettler At the Royal National Theatre
1963 Julius Caesar Cassius At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Other venues[edit]

Year Title Role Theatre Other notes Refs.
1918 Arrah-na-Pogue Tour
1920 Dick Whittington The Cat
The Sign of the Cross
Shot at Dawn
The Terror
1922 Ali Baba The Donkey
The Babes in the Wood Babe
1924 Irish and Proud of It The Boy
1928 Tilly of Bloomsbury Indian student Norwich Repertory Company
Mr. Wu Carruthers
The Promised Land
Ambrose Applejohn's Adventure
1935 Gruagach Dúr an Deagh-Chroidhe N/A As director
1936 Ah, Wilderness! Richard Ambassadors Theatre London debut
1939 The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon Mercury Theatre
The Plough and the Stars The Covey Q Theatre
1940 Les Parents terribles Michel Gate Theatre
1941 Thunder Rock Streeter St Martin's Theatre
1942 The Doctor's Dilemma Louis Dubedat Theatre Royal Haymarket
1950 Pommy Nosey People's Palace, Mile End
1954 The Playboy of the Western World Christy Mahon Théâtre de la Ville
1957 A Moon for the Misbegotten Phil Hogan Bijou Theatre
1958 Casement Roger Casement Theatre Royal Waterford
1959 Goodwill Ambassador Seumas O'Beirne Olympia Theatre, Dublin
1960 Shubert Theatre
Wilbur Theatre
Krapp's Last Tape Krapp Empire Theatre, Belfast
Arms and the Man Bluntschli
Queen's Theatre, Dublin
The Voices of Doolin Doolin Tour
1961 The Temptation of Mr. O Mr. O Olympia Theatre, Dublin Also playwright [28]
1968 The Shaughraun Conn Aldwych Theatre
The Cherry Orchard Gayev Olympia Theatre, Dublin Dublin Theatre Festival
1970 Hadrian the Seventh Frederick William Rolfe Tour
Coriolanus Menenius John F. Kennedy Theatre
The Old Vic
1976 The Plough and the Stars Fluther Good Tour
1978 You Never Can Tell Walter Tour
1980 A Life Desmond Drumm The Old Vic


  1. ^ known in North America as Lou Gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis


  1. ^ a b "Cyril Cusack Biography (1910-)".
  2. ^ a b "Cyril Cusack, 82, the Irish Actor Often Seen as His Country's Best". New York Times. 8 October 1993.
  3. ^ "Cyril James Cusack actor". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 March 2014.
  4. ^ "Cyril Cusack - Obituary from The Associated Press". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  5. ^ Clarke, Donald; Brady, Tara. "The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order". The Irish Times.
  6. ^ "Cusack, Cyril | Abbey Archives | Abbey Theatre - Amharclann na Mainistreach". Abbey Theatre.
  7. ^ "Katie Roche · Teresa Deevy Archive".
  8. ^ "The Teresa Deevy Archive".
  9. ^ The Irish Times, "Presentation of television awards and citations," 4 December 1963.
  10. ^ The Annual Obituary. St. Martin's. 10 March 1993. ISBN 9781558623200 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "Cusack turns into Catherine the great". independent.
  12. ^ "Cyril Cusack Quotes". BrainyQuote.
  13. ^ Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life (Gill and Macmillan, 1991)
  14. ^ "Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006". Archived from the original on 12 November 2006. Retrieved 30 March 2009.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo "Cusack, Cyril | Abbey Archives | Abbey Theatre - Amharclann na Mainistreach". Abbey Theatre. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  16. ^ "The King of Spain's Daughter". Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  17. ^ "Browse Items · Teresa Deevy Archive". Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  18. ^ "An Páistín Fionn". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  19. ^ "An Phíb Fé Sna Bántaibh". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  20. ^ "An tÉirighe Amach". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Aon-Mhac Aoife Alban". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  22. ^ "Bird's Nest". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  23. ^ "An Stoirm". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  24. ^ "An Traona sa Mhóinfhéar". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  25. ^ "Tar Éis an Aifrinn". Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  26. ^ "Cyril Cusack, 82, the Irish Actor Often Seen as His Country's Best". The New York Times. Associated Press. 8 October 1993. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  27. ^ "Cyril Cusack | Theatricalia". Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  28. ^ "The Temptation of Mr. O". Retrieved 12 April 2022.

External links[edit]