Emmet Bergin obituary: Actor who was part of Ireland’s Sunday nights for 18 years as raffish Dick Moran

A lesser actor might have portrayed the Glenroe character as a two-dimensional cad. Bergin imbued him with vulnerability and humanity

Born June 3rd, 1944

Died March 15th, 2024

Emmet Bergin, who has died aged 79, achieved fame in the 1980s playing twinkle-eyed solicitor Dick Moran in beloved soap opera Glenroe. Handsome and magnetic, Bergin brought all his dapper charm to bear as Moran, a silver fox with a heart of gold who embarked on multiple affairs whilst always remaining the good guy in the eyes of Glenroe viewers.

A lesser actor might have portrayed Dick as a two-dimensional cad. Bergin imbued him with vulnerability and humanity, and he became a favourite of audiences who appreciated the urbanity the character introduced to the show’s rural setting. However, Glenroe was just one of many accomplishments throughout his career, which included a long association with the Abbey Theatre and appearances in films by John Boorman, Joel Schumacher and David Lean.

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Bergin was born in Carlow town on June 3rd, 1944, the second-oldest of a family of five. His father, Patrick Bergin snr, worked at Carlow Sugar factory and was a trade union activist who unsuccessfully stood for election for the Labour Party in 1948. Paddy snr also founded a small theatre in Carlow. When Emmet was 10, the family moved to Dublin, where his father served as a senator, having been nominated to the Seanad by the taoiseach in 1954.

Bergin attended the CBS at Westland Row but was an independent spirit who did not readily accept the firm discipline of the Christian Brothers. He left school aged 15. He worked various jobs, including at a Wimpy Bar and delivered newspapers with his father. He contracted TB at age 18 and spent a year in one of the government’s newly opened sanatoriums.

While receiving medical treatment, Bergin read voraciously – devouring novels, short stories and plays. On discharge from the sanatorium, he was asked to enter his preferred profession on a form. He wrote down “actor” and later took classes at the Brendan Smith Academy, established by and named after the founder of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Bergin’s first job in the dramatic arts was as assistant stage manager at the Eblana Theatre, located in the basement of Busáras in Dublin. One of his duties was to sit in the wings and prompt actors who forgot their lines.

He had soon swapped the side of the stage for the spotlight itself. He appeared in the debut production of Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Gaiety Theatre during Dublin Theatre Festival in September 1964, and toured with the Abbey and the Irish Theatre Company. His mother, Nora, also worked in theatre, staffing the green room at The Gaiety.

He became renowned for his versatility. Bergin played Biff in Death of a Salesman, Eilert Lövborg in Hedda Gabler and Mr Parksy in The Unexpected Man. But while theatre was his original love, he eventually felt the call of the screen. In 1969, he had a small part in David Lean’s film Ryan’s Daughter and later appeared alongside Gabriel Byrne in John Boorman’s surreal medieval fantasy Excalibur, as brave Sir Ulfius. However, it was with Glenroe in 1983 that he became a household name – by which time his younger brother Patrick was emerging as a successful actor in his own right.

Emmet established lasting friendships with his fellow Glenroe cast – particularly with Geraldine Plunkett, who played his (already married) love interest, Mary. They developed an implicit trust in each other’s acting abilities, translating into their powerful scenes together.

Dick’s forbidden romance with Mary bewitched the nation. Later there was uproar when he betrayed her for a fling with posh blow-in Terry Killeen (Kate Thompson). But while Thompson received hate mail, the nation could not bring itself to turn on Bergin. Dick Moran’s raffish charisma rendered him bulletproof.

“He was a fine actor. He had a very, very wide range – completely different from Dick Moran, very versatile,” Plunkett told RTÉ. She described him as “a very down-to-earth man”.

“People always think you’re your character on television. You’re not,” she continued. “He couldn’t wheel and deal to save his life.”

His brother Patrick paid tribute to him as “an inspiration and a great man”. Kevin Reynolds, producer of RTÉ's Drama on One, described Bergin as “a sweet, smart, funny and generous artist ... a gentleman who always kept an eye out for others”.

Bergin had all of Dick Moran’s charm – but his private life was very different from that of his on-screen alter ego. He met his wife Sarah at a Trinity Players performance of The Knack in 1967, and they married in 1969 – the same year he appeared in Ryan’s Daughter.

He was a keen swimmer and an enthusiastic fisherman – a member, along with his father, of the Knights of the Silver Hook fishing club in Greystones, Co Wicklow, and contributor to Trout & Salmon magazine. He also shared his father’s socialist beliefs and was a passionate advocate for workers’ rights.

Bergin continued to work after Glenroe was cancelled in 2001. He played Sunday Independent editor Aengus Fanning in Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin movie in 2003 and was cast by John Boorman in his 2020 radio play The Hit List.

He is survived by his wife Sarah, son Gavan, daughter Tara, grandson Jack and extended family.

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