As millions of Coronation Street fans this week mourned the passing of Anne Kirkbride, we remember her roots in south Galway, and the time she visited the area to learn more about the life of her great grandfather, a farm labourer from near Gort.
Ms Kirkbride, best knows as Corrie stalwart Deirdre Barlow, came to Galway eight years ago as part of a programme exploring her roots through the work of her ancestors. The programme You Don’t Know You’re Born saw her trace her family history back to a small farm close to Gort to discover the life of her great grandfather John Niland.
The programme, part of a short series which aired in early 2007, saw Ms Kirkbride travel to south Galway to meet her cousin Kate Niland, before visiting Lough Cutra Castle and discovering the land where her great grandfather worked as a farm labourer, where she tried her hand at operating a traditional horse-drawn plough with the help of Galway ploughing experts the Fahys from Corrandulla. She also discovered that he had a 30-acre holding close to Gort, and she met Anne Donohue, the current owner of the land.
“This is my ancestral home where John lived and raised his family,” she said while viewing the farm. “Molly, my grandma, grew up here. She then moved to England and married Arthur, Thomas the photographer’s son. Together they had a son who was my dad, Jack. So to imagine Molly running around here as a small girl is very emotional.”
John Niland had a hard but successful life. He moved to Oldham in the north of England to live with his daughters at the age of 70, and he died in Oldham two years later. Ms Kirkbride’s journey to discover her roots came just months after the death of her father, Jack Kirkbride, in 2006.
“It was a difficult decision for me because I had agreed to do this show before Dad died, and when he died I thought it really would be too painful because he was very involved in the early stages,” she said at the time. “But having done it, I think more than anything I wanted to do it for him, not to find out about him, but because he would have loved it and I’ve done it for him actually, because I know it would have made his year. I was close anyway, very close to my dad, but I think it’s probably given me a deeper understanding of what he’s about.”
Ms Kirkbride played the role of Deirdre in Coronation Street for 44 years. She joined the soap at the age of 17 and won over viewers with her portrayal of Deirdre’s many ups and downs, including three husbands and numerous affairs. Deirdre was most famously the subject of the ‘free the Weatherfield one’ campaign after she was imprisoned for the crimes of fraudster boyfriend John Lyndsey in 1998, with then UK prime minister Tony Blair attempting to intervene on her behalf.
Ms Kirkbride passed away on Monday evening after a short illness.