T. P. McKenna

This article is about the Irish actor. For the American army officer and author, see Thomas P. McKenna.
T. P. McKenna
Born Thomas Patrick McKenna
(1929-09-07)7 September 1929
Mullagh, County Cavan, Ireland
Died 13 February 2011(2011-02-13) (aged 81)
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London, England
Occupation Actor
Years active 1953–2009
Spouse(s) May White (m. 1955; d. 2007)
Children 5

Thomas Patrick McKenna (7 September 1929 – 13 February 2011)[1][2][3] was an Irish actor, born in Mullagh, County Cavan.


Film and television

During the 1960s and 1970s, McKenna appeared regularly in popular television dramas, including The Avengers (1964, 1965, 1968), Danger Man (1965), The Saint (1966, 1968), Adam Adamant Lives! (1967), Jason King (1972), The Sweeney (1975), Blake's 7 (1978), Minder (1984) and in the Doctor Who serial The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1989).

He played Richmond in the Thames Television series Callan (1972) and made ten appearances in Crown Court (1974–1982), mainly as barrister Patrick Canty, while also appearing in the popular ATV anthology drama series Love Story (1965-1968). He also featured prominently in other television dramas including The Duchess of Malfi (1972), The Changeling (1974), Holocaust (1978), The Manions of America (1981), To the Lighthouse (1983), The Scarlet and the Black (1983), Bleak House (1985), Strong Medicine (1986), Jack the Ripper (1988), Shoot to Kill (1990) and the final episode of Inspector Morse (2000).

He had prominent film roles in Ulysses (1967), and A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man (1977). Other film credits include The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Perfect Friday (1970), Villain (1971), Straw Dogs (1971), All Creatures Great and Small (1975), Memed, My Hawk (1988), Pascali's Island (1988),A Caribbean Mystery(1989) Monarch (2000) and The Libertine (2004).

He narrated the Emmy-winning documentary Is There One Who Understands Me (RTÉ).

His performance as Henry VIII in the film Monarch, with Jean Marsh, written and directed by John Walsh was re-released in cinemas in 2014.


McKenna appeared with leading theatre companies, including the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre Company. He was a member of the Abbey Theatre company from 1953 to 1962 performing in over seventy roles. In 1967 he was made an honorary life member of the company along with Cyril Cusack, Siobhan McKenna, and Jack McGowran.

He joined Stuart Burge's company at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1968 playing Trigorin in The Seagull and Sir Joseph Surface in Sheridan's School For Scandal, both directed by Jonathan Miller. In 1969 he created the role of Fitzpatrick in David Storey's 'The Contractor' directed by Lindsay Anderson at the Royal Court Theatre, London. The production later transferred to the Fortune Theatre and ran for over a year. In 1973 he took on the role of Andrew Wyke opposite his friend Donally Donnelly in the Irish premiere of Peter Shaffer's 'Sleuth'. The production played to acclaim in both Dublin and Cork and it broke the box office record for the Olympia Theatre.

Later that year he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and took over the role of Robert Hand in James Joyce's only play, 'Exiles' directed by Harold Pinter. In the same season he also appeared in a rare staging of Jean Genet's 'The Balcony' directed by Terry Hands.

He returned to the RSC in 1976 for Shaw's 'The Devil's Disciple', directed by Jack Gold in a production to mark the American bicentennial celebrations, as the revolutionary pastor Revd. Anderson.

In the late 1980s and 1990s he returned to the Dublin stage when he was invited by director Michael Colgan to join the Gate Theatre on a number of occasions including admired productions of Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and No Mans Land. It was there he created the role of Dr. Rice in Brian Friel's drama, Molly Sweeney, and again at London's Almeida Theatre. Other Friel productions he appeared in were The Communication Cord (Hampstead Theatre, 1984) and The Aristocrats (2004) at the RNT in his final stage appearance.

McKenna directed on occasion, and had productions of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World (Nottingham Playhouse, 1968), Thomas Kilroy's The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche (Abbey Theatre, 1973) and Seán O'Casey's The Shadow of A Gunman (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 1980) to his name. He took the role of Phonsie Doherty in Christopher FitzSimon's Radio 4 comedy series, Ballylennon, and later appeared opposite David Threlfall in the radio drama Baldi.

Personal life

McKenna was married to May White from 1955 to her death in 2007. They had five children.


McKenna died on 13 February 2011 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, at the age of 81. He was buried alongside his wife at Teampall Cheallaigh Cemetery in his native County Cavan.[4]

Following his death, tributes were paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Prince Charles, and Ireland's Culture Minister Mary Hanafin, with the latter stating that McKenna was "one of a great generation whose talents on the screen and stage both at home and abroad gave us all great pride in his accomplishments". In County Cavan, he is commemorated by the T. P. McKenna Drama Scholarships (VEC) and the T. P. McKenna Perpetual Trophy presented as part of the Millrace Annual Drama Festival.[5]

Selected filmography


  1. Olivia Kelly "'Irascible' actor TP McKenna dies in London, aged 81", Irish Times, 15 February 2011.
  2. TP McKenna obituary Guardian, 16 February 2011.
  3. The many faces of TP McKenna Irish Times, 19 February 2011.
  4. Sweeney, Ken (2011-02-28). "Late TP McKenna a 'true son of Mullagh'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2015-06-08.
  5. T. P. McKenna site
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