Ireland House Oral History Collection

Gabriel James Byrne

Gabriel James Byrne, 12 November 2010. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.


November 17, 2010

1 hour, 43 minutes

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Gabriel Byrne (b. 1950, Dublin, Ireland) grew up with a cooper father and a nurse mother, along with five siblings, in Ireland. Educated by the Christian Brothers, he entered the seminary at the age of eleven and left after five years. He went on to University College Dublin to study archaeology and linguistics and then held numerous odd jobs--ranging from encyclopedia salesman to English teacher in Spain--before embarking on an acting career. Byrne actually found his passion for the theater when he joined the Dublin Shakespeare Society in 1974 and began to perform non-professionally. He then worked with the famed Focus Theatre and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. From there he entered the film world in minor parts and became a regular on the Irish soap opera,The Riordans (1978-1979). His "big break" came with Excalibur in 1981, playing Uther Pendragon. In 1987 he starred alongside his future wife, Ellen Barkin, in Siesta. He married Barkin in 1988 and they had two children, Jack and Romy, before divorcing in 1999. Visiting Barkin in New York, he happened by chance to audition for Joel and Ethan Coen's film, Miller's Crossing (1990). The role of Tom Reagan in the critically acclaimed movie raised Byrnes' visibility among American audiences.

Byrne has appeared in more than fifty films, notably Little Women (1994), The Usual Suspects (1995), and Into the West (1992), which he helped produce, as well as appearing on Broadway in the Eugene O'Neill classics, A Touch of the Poet (2005) and Moon for the Misbegotten (2000). He also produced the Irish film, In the Name of the Father (1993). At the time of the interview he starred in the highly acclaimed HBO series In Treatment. In 2010, Byrne was named the first ever Cultural Ambassador for Ireland and in early 2011 announced a program featuring 400 cultural events scheduled across the United States called "Imagine Ireland". Among the events featured are a film retrospective curated by Byrne and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


Photo Credit:

  1. Gabriel James Byrne, 12 November 2010. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.