Noel Purcell (actor)


1999 commemorative stamp
Born Patrick Joseph Noel Purcell
(1900-12-23)23 December 1900
Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland, UK
Died 3 March 1985(1985-03-03) (aged 84)
Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland,
Occupation Film, television and stage actor
Years active 1926–1984

Patrick Joseph Noel Purcell (23 December 1900 – 3 March 1985) was a distinguished Irish actor of stage, screen and television. He appeared in the 1956 film of Moby Dick.[1]

Family background

Patrick Joseph Noel Purcell was the son of auctioneer Pierce Purcell and his second wife Catherine (née Hoban) of 4 Ashbrook Terrace, South Circular Road, Dublin. He was born on 23 December 1900 and baptised six days later at St Kevin's Church, Harrington Street Church.[2] Within a few months, the Purcell family had moved to 12 Mercer Street Lower.[3]

In 1911, the family was living at the same address, but the household was headed by Noel's maternal grandmother, Julia Hoban, a furniture dealer.[4]

Purcell was educated at Synge Street CBS.[5] He lost the tip of his right index finger while making cigarette vending machines, and was also missing his entire left index finger due to a different accident while he was an apprentice carpenter, a feature which he exploited for dramatic effect in the film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).


Plaque in Noel Purcell Walk in Dublin, Ireland

Purcell began his show business career at the age of 12 in Dublin's Gaiety Theatre. Later, he toured Ireland in a vaudeville act with Jimmy O'Dea.[6]

Stage-trained in the classics in Dublin, Purcell moved into films in 1934. He appeared in Captain Boycott (1947) and as the elderly sailor whose death marooned the lovers-to-be in the first sound film version of The Blue Lagoon (1949). He played a member of Captain Ahab's crew in Moby Dick (1956), Dan O'Flaherty in episode one, The Majesty of the Law, of The Rising Of The Moon (1957), a gamekeeper in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and a barman in The Mackintosh Man (1973); the last two films were directed by John Huston.[7]

In 1955, he was an off-and-on regular on the British filmed TV series The Buccaneers (released to American TV in 1956) and Purcell narrated a Hibernian documentary, Seven Wonders of Ireland (1959). In 1962, he portrayed the lusty William McCoy in Lewis Milestone's Mutiny on the Bounty. He played a taciturn Irish in-law to Lebanese American entertainer Danny Thomas' character Danny Williams in a 1963 episode of The Danny Thomas Show. In 1971, he played the caring rabbi in the children's musical drama Flight of the Doves.[8]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre.[9]

Purcell also gained some recognition as a singer. Shortly after the Second World War, songwriter Leo Maguire composed "The Dublin Saunter" for him. He performed the song live for many years and later recorded it for the Glenside label. However, the recording was not a hit. As Purcell recalled many years later, "I don't think one person in the world bought it." However, over time it became one of the most favourite songs about Dublin, receiving countless air-plays on radio programmes. In his latter years, Purcell was asked by RTÉ journalist Colm Connolly whether he had received many royalties down the years. Purcell replied: "Not a penny. I recorded it as a favour for a pal, Leo Maguire, who'd written it. No contract or anything, so I never got a fee or any payments."

In 1981, (on youtube its 1974) he recorded a spoken word version of Pete St. John's "Dublin in the Rare Old Times".[10]

In June 1984, Purcell was given the Freedom of the City of Dublin.[11] Nine months later, he died in his native city at the age of 84.


See also


  1. Hal Erickson. "Noel Purcell - Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos - AllMovie".
  2. "Irish Genealogy".
  3. 1901 census,; accessed 4 May 2016.
  4. "National Archives: Census of Ireland 1911". Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  5. "1955 - 23/12 Noel Purcell having his beard Shaved for Pantomime 941-A2829.jpg - Irish Photo Archive". Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  6. "Noel Purcell dies in Dublin aged 84", The Irish Times, 4 March 1985.
  7. "Noel Purcell profile". Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  8. "Noel Purcell profile". BFI. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  9. "Noel Purcell profile". Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  10. "Noel Purcell - 81 and still performing", The Irish Times, pg. 5, 24 December 1981.
  11. "Well deserved honour for Potter and Purcell", The Irish Times, 5 July 1984.
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