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Sweeney History


Edmund "Birdy" Sweeney

Actor Birdy Sweeney died on the 11th of April, 1999 at the age of 68. More than a thousand mourners were at the funeral. Birdy came from Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. One of 10 children in a very poor family and he was also buried there. He had been filming series five of "Ballykissangel" and died from a suspected heart attack in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin.

Robert Cooper of the Guardian Unlimited wrote, "I first met the actor Birdy Sweeney in Donegal 10 years ago when we were filming outside a derelict moorland cottage in a force 11 gale. The strength of the wind kept threatening to blow Birdy off his feet and the director had to get two of the biggest crew members to hold him upright until the wind dropped long enough for the cameras to turn. The place was muddy, wild and bleak, and Birdy looked frail and vulnerable. The director said 'action' and Birdy delivered the line with the dead-pan timing that viewers of BBC1's series Ballykissangel know well; the director said 'cut', the crew fell about laughing and Birdy looked about him in a bemused fashion as if to say 'what's so funny?'

It seemed to be Birdy's fate as an actor to find himself foundered in muck and clabber in a pair of wellington boots. Audiences probably know him best from Ballykissangel. He played Eamonn, the ancient mountain farmer who constructed 200 wooden sheep to confuse the EU satellite that was allegedly checking on his agricultural subsidy application. There are some actors who can make you laugh even at the thought of them delivering a line in a script - I really regret that I will never now see Birdy walk into Kathleen's shop and ask 'What do women eat?'.

Robert Cooper, head of drama for BBC Northern Ireland, said: "Birdy was a man whose deadpan humour on screen belied the open warmth he constantly radiated off screen. It was a delight just knowing Birdy and an honour to work with him." Sweeney began acting when he was in his fifties, spending much of his earlier life as a comic and bird impersonator. He was first given his nickname when he made his debut mimicking blackbirds as an 11-year-old on BBC Radio Ulster.

Sweeney had a heart attack when he was only 40 and suffered from diabetes throughout his life. Despite his late start as an actor he managed to pick up many credits. In his acting career Sweeney appeared in Angela's Ashes, The Crying Game, which won an Oscar for director Neil Jordan's screenplay, and the TV adaptation of Roddy Doyle's novel The Snapper. He was also in a U.S. movie version of Moll Flanders and recently the films The Butcher Boy and Divorcing Jack, alongside actor David Thewlis. He also appeared in "The Nephew" with Pierce Brosnan.

Recently Sweeney had also been working on a new series of Give My Head Peace for BBC Northern Ireland which was due to be broadcast a few weeks later.

He is survived by his wife Alice and eight children, six of which were boys all living in Philadelphia.

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