Laurel and Hardy need absolutely no introduction. Let’s just sat they are most famous comedy duo of all time by a country mile. A major biopic, Stan and Ollie, will be released this Friday, starring Steve Coogan as Stan, and John C. Reilly playing Ollie.
If you ever wondered why the lounge in the Royal Marine is called Hardy’s, or why a statuette of Laurel and Hardy stands behind the bar in O’Loughlin’s on Lower George’s Street, it is because of a strong local connection to the 20th century’s biggest double act.
In 1953, Stan and Ollie stayed at the Royal Marine Hotel, a landmark hotel that reputedly served Queen Victoria a 16-course breakfast in 1900.
Laurel and Hardy’s lengthy sojourn at the Royal Marine lasted 33 nights, from September 9 to October 13. They arrived by boat to Cobh, Co. Cork from New York. Even though Cobh was supposed to be a low key visit, the church bells chimed the melody of their theme tune, Dance of the Cuckoos, reportedly moving them to tears. The Evening Echo reported: “The entire children’s population of Cobh must have played truant from school for they blocked all traffic, and despite the presence of several vastly amused policemen, they clung onto Laurel and Hardy.”
The comedians met the Lord Mayor of Cork, and then traveled to Blarney Castle kiss the Blarney Stone with their wives. Ollie reluctantly gave up the idea. “Nobody could hold me, I’m too big,” the 23-stone actor quipped to a journalist from The Irish Times.
Laurel and Hardy met with a scriptwriter a few days after their arrival in Dún Laoghaire and started working on a new production with a full cast in the Olympia. “We are thinking of calling it Birds of a Feather but we may change that title,” Stan said. “We will be appearing in Belfast but I do not know about Dublin yet.”
“We are very pleased to be in Ireland. Cobh was a lovely place, and from what I have seen of Dún Laoghaire (he had some trouble pronouncing both names) it seems to be a beautiful spot.”
Birds of a Feather transpired to be their swan song, as Oliver Hardy had a heart attack and suffered from a variety of health problems from 1954 until his death in 1957. Stan Laurel had a longer innings. He died in February 1965, four days after suffering a heart attack.
A few minutes before his death, Laurel told a nurse he’d like to go skiing. The nurse said she didn’t know he was a skier. “I am not,” Laurel retorted. “But I’d rather be doing that than this.” That’s up there with Oscar Wilde’s parting shot: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” A comedian until his dying breath, Laurel had quipped a few years beforehand, “If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I’ll never speak to him again.”
Laurel and Hardy strolling around the streets of Dún Laoghaire had a profound effect on Dalkey dramatist Hugh Leonard, best known for his 1973 comedy drama Da.
The writer recalled: “My mother, attracted by a crowd outside St Michael’s Church in Dún Laoghaire, discovered two gentlemen – one corpulent and twiddling his tie, the other simpering and ruffling his quiff. I do not think I could love anyone who thought that Laurel and Hardy were merely ‘silly’.” When Hugh Leonard died in 2009, Laurel & Hardy films were among the gifts brought to the altar at his funeral.
Stan & Ollie documents Laurel and Hardy’s last tour, which the duo put together while staying in the Royal Marine, Dún Laoghaire’s original luxury hotel that is still standing today. They walked around our streets and seafront, inspiring and entertaining the young Hugh Leonard, and countless others.
Their rich comic legacy strengthens with the passage of time, but let us never forget that these two men, who changed the face of popular culture, were once upon a time residents of Dún Laoghaire.