Jimmy O'Dea

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James Augustine O'Dea (26 April 1899 – 7 January 1965) was an Irish actor and comedian.


Jimmy O'Dea was born at 11 Lower Bridge Street, Dublin, to James O'Dea, an ironmonger, and Martha O'Gorman, who kept a small toy shop.[1] He was one of 11 children. His father had a shop in Capel Street. He was educated at the Irish Christian Brothers O'Connell School in North Richmond Street, Dublin, where a classmate was future Taoiseach Seán Lemass, by the Holy Ghost Fathers at Blackrock College, and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College.[2] From a young age he was interested in taking to the stage; he co-founded an amateur acting group, the Kilronan Players, in 1917. But his father would not hear of it. O'Dea was apprenticed to an optician in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he qualified as an optician.[3]

He returned to Dublin where, aged 21, he set up his own business which he was, eventually, to give to his sister, Rita. In his spare time he took part in amateur productions of Ibsen and Chekhov. From 1920 he was in the Irish theatre in Hardwicke Street working with actor-producer John McDonagh. In 1922 he made a series of comedy films for Norman Whitten.[4] After working in plays by Shaw for a few years he rejoined McDonagh in revues, the first of which, Dublin To-Night, was produced at the Queen's Theatre in 1924. In 1927 he took to the stage full-time.[3] In 1928, this company's first production Here We Are won international acclaim, and in December of the same year it produced its first Christmas Pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor.

O'Dea formed a partnership with Harry O'Donovan (died 3 November 1973) whom he first met in a production of You Never Can Tell in 1924. Their first show was Look Who's Here at Queen's. For more than two decades beginning in 1929 the duo produced two shows a year in Dublin, first in the Olympia Theatre, then in the Gaiety.[5] They created O'Dea's most famous character, "Mrs. Biddy Mulligan".[3] The role drew on Jimmy's previous manifestations as "Dames" in Variety performances and pantomimes. Biddy Mulligan was the representation (caricature, parody and stereotype) of a Dublin street-seller, with all the working-class repartee, wisdom and failings implicit. He made a number of recordings of sketches starring Mrs. Mulligan.[6] Biddy Mulligan is referenced in many Dublin music hall songs such as "Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe", "Daffy the Belle of the Coombe" and "The Charladies' Ball".

O'Dea made some film appearances, such as Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) in which he played King Brian of the little people and Johnny Nobody (1961).[7][8] He also had a successful career in pantomime and toured Ireland and England many times, and is much associated with actress Maureen Potter (1925-2004), with whom he often partnered.

O'Dea was also a prolific songwriter in his day. Many of his songs are still well known to this day, some of them having been sung and recorded by Dublin singer Frank Harte.[citation needed][9][10]

Personal life[edit]

O'Dea married Ursula Doyle. Maureen Potter was bridesmaid.[11] Seán Lemass was best-man; he would also give the valedictory oration at O'Dea's funeral in 1965. Jimmy O’Dea had one child - Christine O’Dea - who married Ursula Doyle’s brother Noel Doyle. Christine lives in Toronto. Christine and Noel had two boys, Donal and Eamonn. Eamonn has 2 daughters, Eve Siobhan and Bridget Kate.


Jimmy O'Dea died at Dr Steevens' Hospital, Dublin, aged 65, on 7 January 1965.[2]

Selected filmography[edit]


With Harry O'Donovan:

  • "Mrs. Mulligan nearly wins the Sweep" E.3694 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan in London" E.3895 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan at the telephone" E.3663 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan at the talkies" E.3764 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan at the racecourse" E.3763 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan in the tram" E.3764 Parlophone
  • "The Irish Schoolmaster" E.3634 Parlophone
  • "Sixpence each way" E.3634 Parlophone
  • "Biddy Mulligan" E 3817 Parlophone
  • "Mrs. Mulligan, Smuggler"
  • "The Charladies' Ball"


  1. ^ "General Registrar's Office". IrishGenealogy.ie. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b The Irish Times, "Jimmy O'Dea dies after 40 years on the Irish stage", 8 January 1965
  3. ^ a b c Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 314. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
  4. ^ Ruth Barton, Irish National Cinema, Routledge (2004) - Google Books p. 40
  5. ^ Irish Times, 5 January 1950
  6. ^ Irish Times, 6 November 1931
  7. ^ Stewart, Amy (14 April 2019). "The search for an Aussie leprechaun fan". BBC News – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  8. ^ "Johnny Nobody (1961)". BFI.
  9. ^ "Frank Harte - Daybreak and a Candle-End". www.theballadeers.com.
  10. ^ "Mrs Mulligan, the Pride of the Coombe". www.fresnostate.edu.
  11. ^ Report (25 September 1959), "Jimmy O'Dea", The Irish Times, p. 4

External links[edit]