Eddie Mailey: clever, compassionate and kind

Actor, producer, coach, teacher, grief counsellor, barman, rugby player, salsa dancer, whist master, warm and generous host, devoted father and husband, and ‘nearly’ Christian Brother, Eddie Mailey lived many lives.
The late Eddie MaileyThe late Eddie Mailey
The late Eddie Mailey

And to judge by the tributes that appeared in the hours after his death this week, he lived each of them to the fullest - helping, serving, educating and influencing all those he met, while accumulating scores of loyal friends everywhere.

Born in Clonmany ‘into a pub’, his parents moved into Derry in the early years of the war.

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His father died in 1945, leaving his mother, and Eddie, to run the Clyde Bar on Foyle Street.

1971… Members of the cast of Derry Theatre Club’s production of ‘The Queen and the Rebels’. Eddie Mailey is pictured standing fourth from left.1971… Members of the cast of Derry Theatre Club’s production of ‘The Queen and the Rebels’. Eddie Mailey is pictured standing fourth from left.
1971… Members of the cast of Derry Theatre Club’s production of ‘The Queen and the Rebels’. Eddie Mailey is pictured standing fourth from left.

In the early 1950s, Eddie left for boarding school with the Brothers in Dundalk, becoming an accomplished rugby player which saw him recruited for the Leinster Under-21 panel.

He studied at University College Dublin (UCD), initially pursuing veterinary science (he looked after the monastery farm animals) before switching to arts.

After qualifying, he taught in London before returning to Derry where he met the love of his life, Cyd Coulter, and secured a job at St Columb’s College.

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Alongside teaching geography with his great friends Aidan Ryder and Seán Moynihan, Eddie ran the canteen (where his imposing physique came in useful in ensuring order), the school rugby club and the scouts.

His bark was so much worse than his bite - in reality, he was the kindest of men who always looked out for the underdog.

Every morning, without fail, he would stop his car at numerous College bus-stops to fill up with students, to save them a few bob or get them out of the rain.

But he revelled in the no-nonsense persona and, in later years, would complain that some of the younger pupils had taken to calling him Santa Claus. ‘Santa Claus? Santa Claus?’, he would often sigh.

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On his very first day at St Columb’s, Eddie was ‘shanghaied’ by Seán McMahon into becoming stage manager for the school Drama Society - thus beginning a 50-year friendship and a passion for theatre that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

In 1970, as the Troubles began to take hold in Derry, Eddie and Seán would go on to help establish the city’s Theatre Club, which produced more than 60 live shows over the next 25 years, providing entertainment and a breath of normality for hard-pressed audiences in an era when touring companies flatly refused to visit the North.

Eddie was equally talented centre-stage or behind the scenes.

He took lead parts in productions of Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’ (alongside his real life son Stephen), Brian Friel’s ‘The Loves of Cass McGuire’, ‘Maria Marten’, ‘The Hostage’, ‘Step in the Hollow’, ‘Living Quarters’ and ‘Men Without Shadows’.

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He also directed dramas from O’Casey to Stoppard, including ‘Juno and the Paycock’, ‘The Shadow of the Glen’, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, and ‘Habeas Corpus’.

He also served the Theatre Club in many other roles, including stage manager, front of house manager, and publicity officer (in turn shanghaiing his artistic daughter Úna into programme and poster design).

After Seán McMahon’s retirement, Eddie played an increasing role in the College Drama Society - coaching, developing and encouraging young talent, many of whom went on to perform at a professional level.

Among the dozens of performers he mentored were: Ciaran Flanagan and Peter Davison (who credit him with helping them establish their comic troupe Love the Concept); actor Stephen Cavanagh (who recently starred in ‘The Crown’); singers Margaret Keys and Ben Kelly; broadcaster Paul McLoone; and musicians Maurice Kelly and Damian Doherty.

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After retiring from teaching, Eddie began his second career as a counsellor with Cruse Bereavement Care.

His wife Cyd’s untimely death in 1985 had left him with a determination to help others through their grief. And there are literally hundreds of people in the North West who benefited from his compassionate listening ear, wise advice and life experience.

Modest to a fault, many of Eddie’s old friends would have been unaware of his role as a quiet healer and helper, just as he rarely spoke about his work as a volunteer with the Foyle Hospice.

Most people will remember him for his marvellous sense of fun, his never-ending stream of corny Dad jokes, his love of music and (salsa) dancing, his childlike delight in sweets and cake, and the shaggy dog stories he loved to tell at his Thursday night card sessions along with the likes of Paul Wilkins, Frank D’Arcy, Brian Duffy, Seán McMahon, Art Byrne, Ken Thatcher, Dermot Carlin, Jack McCauley and Garbhán Downey.

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Of all his accomplishments, the one Eddie was proudest of was his family. His daughter Úna and his sons Emmet, Eóin and Stephen, we suspected, might not all actually run their own countries, but Eddie certainly thought they should be doing so.

And not a Thursday night went past without the table getting up-to-the-minute bulletins of children and grandchildren from Drumahoe to Dublin.

They will miss him awfully but remember him so fondly – as will many more of us.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.


William Edward (Eddie) Mailey is mourned by his children Una, Emmet, Eóin and Stephen, his children-in-law Joe, Catherine and Frances, and his grandchildren Daniel, Joseph, Sarah, Ella, Eve and Tara.

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His Funeral Mass will take place at 9.30am in St. Columb's Church, Chapel Road at 9.30 a.m. followed by burial in the City Cemetery.

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