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The man studied to be a priest, but, somewhere down along the line – and whilst dressed as a woman – Barry McGovern answered a higher calling.

And that calling was, of course, the highest calling of them all – acting.

So, the church’s loss has been Ireland’s – and the world’s – gain, as that young Dublin lad went on to become one of the finest actors of his generation.

That first role, the one that changed the course of the teenage McGovern’s life, was Vittoria in the Edwardian musical The Maid Of The Mountains. At an all-boys school like St Vincent’s in Castleknock, Barry learnt that those with the softest skin and the highest voices had to take the female roles.

McGovern has never looked back – or down – since, going on to join both the RTÉ Players and the Abbey Theatre Company, whilst spreading his wings across theatre, film, radio and television, in everything from his 1979 screen debut in RTE’s Play For Today and such blockbusters as Braveheart, eh, Far And Away and local lad Simon Fitzmaurice’s My Name Is Emily to his award-winning one-man Beckett shows I’ll Go On and Watt to, well, about 7,327 acclaimed theatre productions all over the globe. Along the way, the man has written two musicals, and helmed operas as well as plays.

His standing in the world of arts is enormous, if not always obvious. The writers of the HBO monster hit Game Of Thrones, David Benioff and DB Weiss, chased McGovern down for the role of a feudal farmer, the two having met at Trinity College, Dublin back in 1995, where they fell under the spell of McGovern’s I’ll Go On. And never forgot it. In the credits for Game Of Thrones, McGovern’s character is listed simply as ‘dying farmer’, but Benioff and Weiss had named him in the script as Clamm, a nod to Hamm and Clov from Beckett’s Endgame.

That’s the kind of quiet love that’s out there for Barry McGovern.

Returning to The Whale this Saturday, January 18th, alongside his old Delgany buddies, The Degani Piano Trio, McGovern will take on the role of Ludwig van Beethoven, as he once again reads extracts from the great German-born composer’s diaries whilst Alan Smale and co provide the soundtrack to a life.

Before the big night, we asked young McGovern to let us know his heroes, those artists who had inspired – and still inspire – him in this highly rewarding and mildly ridiculous profession…


Spencer Tracy

A wonderful screen actor whose ‘economy of doing’ had much to teach us all.


James Joyce

A fierce follower of his vocation who never wavered in his belief that he could be, and eventually was, a great writer.


Igor Stravinsky

Who had so many styles over a long life but who mastered them all.


Pablo Picasso

Ditto.


Noam Chomsky

Who tells it like it is.

You can find out more about Beethoven: Words And Music at The Whale on Saturday, January 18th right here, and about young Barry by trawling through Google. Naturally, the man doesn’t have a website. Nice. Pics of Barry McGovern courtesy of Irish Film & Television Services.

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