TRIBUTES have been paid to Kenny Ireland, one of the leading figures in the Scottish theatre world, who has passed away at the age of 68.
Ireland, who had a prolific acting career, was best known for his time in charge of the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, which he led for more than a decade in the 1990s and 2000s.
He was also one of the leading campaigners for Scotland to get its own national theatre company, a dream that was realised in 2006 when the then Scottish Executive instigated the National Theatre of Scotland.
His death was announced by the theatre yesterday, less than two months after it emerged he was battling cancer. He directed more than 30 productions at the theatre including hit shows like Guys and Dolls, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Merchant of Venice and Jekyll & Hyde.
In recent years, he had been at the helm of a number of major productions for His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, including Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song and Neil Gunn’s The Silver Darlings.
Paisley-born Ireland, who became a TV star in recent years for his role in comedy series Benidorm, found fame in the 1980s with regular TV appearances. His film roles include The Big Man, Drowning by Numbers, and the classic Bill Forsyth comedy Local Hero.
The Royal Lyceum said that the theatre was “greatly saddened” to have learned of his death.
A spokeswoman for the theatre said: “Kenny directed well over 30 new productions here, including many extraordinary, big, bold shows which audiences still remember among their favourite productions.
“He always sought to create opportunities for young actors to perform on stage, an instinct which helped to launch the careers of a new generation of Scottish acting talent … he was an important part of the Lyceum’s story and of the story of theatre in Scotland and he will be greatly missed.”
Neil Murray, executive producer of the National Theatre of Scotland, said: “Kenny Ireland was a giant of Scottish theatre through the 1980s and 90s. He created a bold, daring programme of work at the Lyceum of both new and classic work.
“Kenny was also instrumental in the movement that led to the creation of National Theatre of Scotland. For that alone, we will always be eternally mindful and grateful. He leaves a wonderful legacy and will be much missed.”
Jane Spiers, chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, which runs His Majesty’s Theatre, said: “This is heart-breaking news. Kenny Ireland was a hugely influential figure in the theatre scene and a great talent both as an actor and as a director.
“He was an inspiration and a joy to work with. His vision helped us realise our long-held ambition to stage our own work. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”
Benidorm co-star Danny Walters, who plays Tiger Dyke in the show, said: “Very sad news about Kenny Ireland.”