By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Ireland’s long-running top TAM rural soap series "Glenroe" is to lose one of its "anchor" stars, actress Mary McEvoy, who has played Biddy Byrne for the last 17 years.
She is due to meet a dramatic end in an episode next month and then she is off to a new career with stage performances scheduled for the U.S. and Wales.
McEvoy is in a stage show of J.P. Donleavy’s novel "The Gingerman," which did well in Dublin. The play, with McEvoy, is moving to New York and the Irish Arts Center next month. Later, the play will move to Wales.
Biddy and her husband, Miley, played by actor Mick Lally, are RTE’s most beloved and long-lasting couple.
The disclosure of McEvoy’s departure, expected to be in a car crash in the show being transmitted on May 7, has itself become part of a soap opera between the station’s publication, the RTE Guide, and a brash newcomer called TV Now!
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The publishing team that has already been a success with VIP (Very Important Person) — the ersatz Irish version of the glossy magazines like Hello — launched their new TV listings publications earlier this month.
Television listings magazines are big business with the top-selling What’s on TV in Britain selling 1.7 million copies.
With columnists like the taoiseach’s partner, Celia Larkin, TV Now! is taking on the RTE Guide’s 160,000 copies a week market. It badly needs to break stories from within the national broadcasting company which itself relies on the guide as a substantial earner.
The killing off of Biddy — the biggest thing to hit Glenroe in years — first turned up in the pages of TV Now! as a scoop that has embarrassed RTE.
The front page of the RTE guide merely carried the headline, "Death in Glenroe. Where will it strike?" and speculation inside that someone was getting the chop.
Biddy has been the dominant partner in the soap opera, taking most of the decisions for the somewhat gormless Miley. The script writers will have a field day later in the year as he comes to terms with widowhood and taking on responsibility for his life with his two screen children.
"It’s going to be tough for him. He’s going to have to stand on his own two feet," series producer Paul Cusack, said of Miley’s future.
McEvoy, who would only reveal that her death would be "fast and merciful," said that she could not have explored her Glenroe character much more.
"Biddy really is a normal person. There is not an awful hat could happen to her outside her family. She’s not going to run off with the milkman or anything like that."
Leaving Biddy behind would be a "great relief" and she said she hoped Miley would "grieve, get it over with and have a nice young one moved in by Christmas."
She joked that she wanted to come back to "Glenroe" as her own evil sister, dressed in "PVC with a whip," but she couldn’t see that happening.
The Irish Arts Center presents J.P. Donleavy’s "The Ginger Man," a stage adaptation from his internationally celebrated and highly acclaimed novels, performed by The Dublin Theater Company. Previews are May 17-23. Performances Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3, from May 24 through July 2. Performances Reservations, (212) 581-4125. The Irish Arts Center is at 553 West 51st St., NYC.