Toibin’s Travels

MALCOLM ROGERS talks to actor and comedian Niall Toibin about his favourite places in Ireland

“Not for a king’s ransom would I tell you my least favourite places in Ireland,” says Niall Toibin with a grin, “because I’d be sure to have to go and work there next week. But there are plenty of them.”

Places presumably like the northern county, where in the past the comedian has accused the inhabitants of eating their dinners in a drawer lest they are disturbed by neighbours and forced to share their food. 

Fortunately, Niall has many places he does like in Ireland, chief of these being Rosses Point.

“Like the rest of Sligo, this little village has remained almost unchanged since I first went there, some 50 years ago. 

“I was just passing through — I was a young buck back then, but even so, I was enthralled with the scenery. It’s on an inlet of the sea, and the yachts and fishing boats just glide past. It’s really incredibly peaceful.” 

The weather, of course, in the north-west of the country can be somewhat unpredictable. 

“Ach well, that’s true,” says Niall philosophically, “but last summer up there was beautiful. I believe it was the 16th of May.”

He laughs again, and then waxes lyrical: “But I always say that if the weather was better Ireland wouldn’t be so green — and that’s what gives the country it’s beauty. Now the thing about Rosses Point is that it’s pretty as well as being hospitable. Plenty of places are pretty and horrible!” 

Again Niall diplomatically declines to name names, so we can only wonder at what further horrors or scurrilous practices he has uncovered in his travels round Ireland.

Rosses Point, according to Niall, combines the very best of Hibernian hospitality with a certain cosmopolitan feel.

“You see,” he explains, “they’ve been doing it so long — looking after visitors in an understated way — they’ve never become too commercialised, never tried to cash in too much. So in that way the village has preserved its character as well as making the tourists feel welcome.” 

Being a Cork man, Niall naturally likes to spend the odd day down the country. But it’s not the West Cork of the glitterati and literati he goes for. It’s the ancient town of Youghal that intrigues him. 

“That Scottish writer Claud Cockburn — you know, the journalist and novelist — lived in Youghal, oh, for 30 years or more. He always described it as ‘standing at a slight angle to the universe’. I like that — it sums up the slightly different feel of the place. Cork is definitely a place apart.”

Although this quirkiness may have had some bearing on John Huston’s decision to film the 1956 production of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, in the area, there were probably a few other reasons as well. 

And they’re likely to be the same reasons that almost 50 years later continue to take the discerning tourist to this part of Cork — dramatic scenery, fine hostelries, a first class but inexpensive golf course, and of course a unique ambience. 

When filming Moby Dick Huston made expert use of Cork’s photogenic scenery, in an area which very fittingly today is a haven for whale watchers. 

“You’ll see everything round these parts — whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals. Sometimes, when the grey clouds lock in place over this part of Ireland and the waters turn inky black — well you could believe the very devils of hell live down there.” 

As well as a head full of jokes, facts, scripts, poems and recitations in his head, Niall Toibin always carries two other things with him — his diary, to remind him when his next tour is, and his golf clubs. 

“I’ve 14 of them — so I suppose that means I’ve 15 things I always carry with me. Still that’s not quite as bad as a friend of mine who always carries 54 things with him on holiday — a clean pair of socks and a pack of cards!”

Niall drives himself to most of his concert dates round Ireland, but confesses he’s not as fond of motoring as he once was.

“I tend to leave very early in the morning — about five or so — and that way you steer clear of a lot of the aggravation on the roads. And if you arrive early, well you can always squeeze in nine holes before dinner.

“You know, myself and my wife Judy — God rest her — used to travel to cities all over Europe. Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Munich. But do you know, we were probably just as happy when we were heading for the Dingle Peninsula.”