TRIBUTES HAVE been paid to legendary Irish entertainer Billa O'Connell, who has died at the age of 91.
The Cork icon entertained generations of Leesiders over the decades, since first taking to the stage in the pantomime in 1947, and would quickly become a staple of the Cork Opera House.
The hugely popular entertainer was a regular in Irish media, often appearing on The Late Late Show, releasing a number of songs-- many on behalf of charity organisations-- and later becoming a manager for the next up-and-coming Irish entertainment talent.
Billa O'Connell's biography, Just Billa, was released in 2000, giving a real insight into the man who had helped Cork families make countless memories throughout the years.
The news of his passing today, at the age of 91, has drawn tributes and messages of condolences from the public and fellow entertainers, with a spokesperson for Red FM's Neil Prendeville show saying they are "so saddened" to hear of his death.
" Billa passed away peacefully at 6.45am this morning," they wrote. "Thinking of Nell and all the family. A true Cork legend. RIP Billa."
RIP BILLA.. We are so saddened to hear of the passing of Cork legend and very good friend of the show Billa O'Connell. Billa passed away peacefully at 6.45am this morning. Thinking of Nell and all the family. A true Cork legend. RIP Billa. pic.twitter.com/uZakOq1nV4
— Neil Prendeville (@NeilRedFM) September 23, 2021
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, himself a proud Cork native, said there was "deep sadness across the country today over the loss of one of our most iconic singers and entertainers".
"Billa O’Connell was quintessential Cork and we will miss him. My deepest sympathies to his wife Nell and all the family."
Deep sadness across the country today over the loss of one of our most iconic singers and entertainers.
Billa O’Connell was quintessential Cork and we will miss him.
My deepest sympathies to his wife Nell and all the family. pic.twitter.com/gTJoIAeQfK
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) September 23, 2021
Local Cork man Mark McDonnell took to Twitter where he said he had "some really great memories seeing him perform in pantos down through the years", while Jackie Foley said he was a man who was "so proud of his city and the best panto dame ever.
"Lovely memories of being back stage of the Opera House when I was young & my dad used to do the sets for the Swans," she said, adding: "he was a gentleman".
V sad today to hear of the passing of our very own Cork Legend Billa O'Connell. Who was so proud of his city and the best panto dame ever. Lovely memories of being back stage of the Opera House when I was young & my dad used to do the sets for the Swans he was a gentleman R.i.P😪 pic.twitter.com/dEnzcBsVAa
— Jackie Foley (@foleyjackie823) September 23, 2021
Local primary school Glasheen Boys School shared images of the entertainer visiting schoolchildren throughout the years and offered their condolences to Billa O'Connell's family, describing the panto icon as a "wonderful supporter" of the school.
Condolences to all the family of the late Billa O'Connell. Legendary Cork man & wonderful supporter of Glasheen BNS, both on & off the sports field. Happy memories of one of his visits to Glasheen.... May Billa rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/hCkBX4c51B
— Glasheen Boys School (@glasheenboys) September 23, 2021
Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, said he was "truly sad to hear the news" of his passing.
He brought "so many memories of laughter, joy and friendship, including a memorable occasion when he brought our family back stage after the pantomime to show us the wonderful behind the scenes world of the theatre."
Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire described Billa as "one of Cork's great characters.
"He felt like he belonged to us all.
"A gentleman and a great character, gas craic & quick witted."
Billa leaves behind his wife Nell, their children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.