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BORN entertainer

From his role as Fergus the postman on Wanderly Wagon, to The Lyrics Board and presenting and producing some of the biggest shows in Irish radio, career chameleon Aonghus McAnally has graced our TV screens and airwaves throughout the last three decades, but music has always been his first love.

"My training is as a musician, I am a guitar player," Aonghus explains. "Music is the most fundamental thing in my life after the love of my wife and my family. It is to music that I go when I am down and when I need to get myself out of any mental frustration."

"I started as a guitar player and ended up as a TV presenter in the 1980s and have been going from every type of show - from entertainment to current affairs - ever since. The only thing I haven't done is the news, it wouldn't be my thing," says Aonghus, who currently produces Joe Duffy's Liveline.

Aonghus grew up in a theatrical family; his parents, father Ray McAnally and mother Ronnie Masterson, were both noted Abbey actors. His father was also a celebrated film actor, who starred in My Left Foot and alongside Robert de Niro in Hollywood blockbuster The Mission.

Aonghus admits having the famous McAnally surname has both disadvantages and advantages.

"It was a fantastic advantage in one sense in knowing the qualities and dedication and work ethic that was needed and certainly my mam and dad really gave us that in spades," Aonghus tells me.

"My dad would have said all the time 'You must do this to the best of your ability'."

Aonghus only experienced what he calls his first 'proper' acting gig three years ago, two decades after his father's death, while performing in a one man play about the life of Tralee musician Christy Hennessy.

"I have always been doing a kind of different thing to what my mam or dad might have done, so there were no direct comparisons, but I suppose the same principles were involved," Aonghus explains.

"My son Aonghus Og is a wonderful actor and he is doing really well. For him he has the legacy of his granddad and his mother, my wife Billie Morton. "Billie and I met in the Abbey Theatre on the stage while we were doing a pantomime and my mother and father met in the Abbey Theatre on the stage too.

"Then I watched Aonghus Og playing in the Plough and the Stars in the Abbey as a third generation Abbey actor, which is quite an accolade," Aonghus says proudly.

"Weirdly for one of the shows they were doing recently, when they were doing Aonghus Og's costume, one of the suits they brought out for him to try on had Ray McAnally written on the inside of it. So that was quite a buzz!"

"For me growing up in a theatrical family was fantastic," Aonghus adds. "We had the best of everything, sure my mum and dad would be away doing shows at odd hours, but they would be there at odd times, when other parents wouldn't be there.

"We had the buzz too of going in backstage as a kid into the panto in the Abbey or the Gaiety or wherever, seeing behind the scenes, the magic of theatre and looking out at all the empty seats before a show would start - to me that is oxygen. My kids slag me saying that when I open the fridge and the light comes on, I'll do five minutes of gags, I enjoy performing so much," he laughed.

In a poignant documentary about his father's life, which aired on TG4 in 2012, Aonghus remembered his father as a great actor and parent, despite the health issues and marriage breakdown, which the award- winning actor experienced before his death in 1989.

"I did the documentary because I wanted to understand him more; he was a brilliant, eccentric, fantastic genius, but with all the side-effects of that," Aonghus smiles.

During the filming, Aonghus got to sit down with his father's former co-star and friend Robert de Niro. It is the only moment of his career in which Aonghus can remember being truly star struck.

"It was great. They had great craic on the movie because my dad would have been diametrically opposed in his style to de Niro's method acting," Aonghus explains.

"There is a fantastic scene in the mission where de Niro just breaks down and cries and I remember my dad rang me from Columbia and said 'Jesus Bobby is doing my head in! The fecker has been crying since 6am and we're not doing the shoot until 2.30pm.' So they always laughed about it. They had great respect for each other."

The McAnally household was a colourful place in which to grow up.

"You never knew who was going to turn up. One night I was going to the Olympia to see Marcel Marceau and my dad said 'look, sure come home afterwards because we have a guest coming to dinner, I'd like you to say hello.' This man arrived with a very gorgeous, much younger woman with him and we were talking and my dad was asking about where I had been and I was telling them how fantastic it was and my dad said eventually, 'Well, this is Marcel Marceau.' He had his make-up off and I didn't recognise him; that was the kind of house it was. It was wonderfully exciting.

In perhaps his favourite incarnation yet, Aonghus is now a doting granddad to Aonghus Og's daughter Cadhla and his other son Andrew's little boy James, both four years old.

"I feel very young still to be a granddad and yet it has been an incredible joy. The joy of holding the child of your child is just an extraordinary experience. ."

Aonghus will host the National Concert Hall's live orchestra performance of the Snowman Movie on big screen in December. Tickets on www.nch.ie


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