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Dowcha boys freedom gong for corks very own

Thursday, 20th June, 2013 3:00am

They were being recognised for entertaining and, true to form, the three newest Freemen of Cork city had the audience in stitches as they were honoured by the city this week.

All semblance of  controversy  melted away the minute the procession of city councillors and senior management walked into the concert hall on Monday this week, with a loud round of applause stirring from the assembled 250 invited guests when they spotted the three new  recipients. Members of the Oireachtas and notable Corkonians such as Niall Tóibín and Bill O'Herlihy were also present.  

Billa O'Connell, Frank Duggan and Michael Twomey (commonly known as Cha and Miah) were all installed as Freemen of Cork for their lifetime contribution to professional  and  amateur theatre, arts, drama and song in Cork city.  

Civic pride

"The custom of awarding the Freedom of the City of Cork dates from the 14th century, almost as old as Billa, Michael and Frank combined,” said Lord Mayor John Buttimer, in his speech at the ceremony.

The conferring of the Freedom of the City of Cork is the highest civic honour which can be bestowed by Cork City Council upon a person who has distinguished himself/herself and is deemed worthy to have his/her name enrolled on the list of the Freemen of the City. In the past a variety of different people have been included on the scroll of the Freemen of Cork. These have included presidents of Ireland, past and present, so too American presidents Dr Woodrow Wilson and John F Kennedy.  

"Some of the key words associated with the three recipients today are laughter and humour. Humour is an important part of the human condition. A world without laughter would be a world without a soul. Indeed, comedy serves many key purposes in life—reducing stress, defusing social tensions, revealing the absurdity of human behaviour, and generally increasing the quality of life," said Mr Buttimer.

"Over the many decades in which the three nominees have made their mark, Cork and Ireland has seen many different economic cycles. There have been good times, bad times and in-between times. Throughout all of that the inherent characteristics of these three individuals have reflected the strengths of Cork people in general."

Mr Buttimer paid extensive tribute to the three men's careers on the stage and screen with a particular emphasis on the brand of satire that the three have espoused over their careers.

“If there were suddenly no satirical productions I would be very afraid,” said Mr Buttimer.

“The importance of being able to criticise and lampoon those in power cannot be understated. And though satirists very rarely affect any real change in the world, the simple fact that they are allowed to produce their work assures us that we live in a free society. The satirist's voice need not be heard by everyone, it merely needs to be heard. For once the voice of criticism is silent, society has truly gone astray.”

In their responses to the Lord Mayor, the three men kept their audience in laughter, as has been their wont for the past number of decades.

“I share this award with all those actors in the city over the years who are not as lucky as us today to have been honoured as we are today,” said Michael Twomey.

The former theatrical partner of Billa, the late Paddy Comerford, was also remembered fondly by the three men - not least of all by Mr O'Connell, for his contribution to their shows and status.

Honour

“It's a great honour, for my family and when I was told by the Lord Mayor, I got very emotional,” said Mr O'Connell.

“To think of the great people that were there before me. All I can do is thank the people of Cork. I didn't even get my primary. This is a tremendous occasion.”

Frank Duggan described how he was “staggered” when he was first informed by the Lord Mayor.

“It was totally unexpected,” said Mr Duggan.

“To make the people laugh is an honour in itself and we have been doing that for the better half of a half a century. To be honoured by the city for doing that - I'm just thrilled to bits.

As for any perks to the honour (of which there are none)?

“I think I can tether my horse outside Le Chateau,” said Mr Duggan.

"However I do know in London one of the perks is that a Freeman of the city, if he is to be hanged, can insist on a silken rope…so I'm holding that in reserve."

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