18 April 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Cinematographer Donal Gilligan Dies Age 46
20 Sep 2010 :
Donal Gilligan
Irish cinematographer Donal Gilligan passed away on Sunday, 19 September 2010, he was 46. Much loved amongst his friends and colleagues within the Irish film and television industry, the two time IFTA nominee suffered a sudden heart attack on Sunday night.

Donal began his career in the industry in the early nineties and worked on dozens of successful Irish projects throughout the years including ‘Omagh’, ‘Dead Bodies’, ‘Mystics’, ‘Watermelon’, ‘John McGahern: A Private World’ and ‘Raw’.  He is survived by his four children and wife Charlotte.

Today tributes have been paid to Donal by some of his friends in the industry. Earlier this year Donal filmed the ITV series, ‘Primeval’. The series’ Irish director, Robert Quinn voiced his personal sadness at the loss of his friend, telling us that: “Irish film has lost one of its most talented and loved artists. Donal lit up the lives (no pun intended) of everyone he worked with. The joy and energy Donal brought to his work is unparalleled and he will be irreplaceable. I have lost a great friend and I am devastated.” 

Other Irish directors paying tribute to Donal today include Kieron J. Walsh who commented, “I worked with Donal many, many times over the past 15 years. To me he was not only someone who sculpted with light but also someone who literally lit up a set with his personality. His sensitivity and humour propelled me through through the most miserable production situations and to top it all his pictures were beautiful. He was a great  Director of Photography, a great father, a great husband and my great friend. I’ll never forget him and will miss him enormously.”

Director Ciaran Donnelly joined the tributes saying: “I never actually worked with him but I knew Donal for a long, long time. He was an absolutely fantastic bloke who was always full of the joys of life.”

Director Tom Collins, who worked with Donal on many projects including his feature documentary project ‘The Boys of St. Columbs’, bestowed much praise on the gifted cinematographer recalling a favourite memory of their time filming ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ in 1989 along the NI border (described as “bandit country” in 1989 by the director) - when they ran into a patrol of paratroopers.

The Patrol Commander demanded that I come over to him, as he was pointing a rifle it would have been churlish for me to refuse.  A crowd had begun to toss large rocks at the Paras and the Patrol Commander kept demanding that the cameraman turn off the camera.  I looked back sheepishly at Donal, hoping he might stop.  Donal kept filming.

“The Paras were getting agitated, the crowd was getting agitated, I was getting agitated. Donal was smiling and saying that he was not filming, the noise from the big black camera made this difficult to deny. Eventually, thank Jesus, Donal ran out of film. The Paratroopers decided to retreat from the crowd now about a hundred strong and I looked ashen at Donal, who said, “Sure I got you great footage”. And that was one of the things you got from Donal, the ability to go one step beyond.

“There were so many jobs he did for and with me. No matter the size nor the money offered he would turn up. I can hardly remember them all, each had its story, he always wound me up, we always fought, I would say, “shoot it but I’ll never use it”. He always shot it and I always used it.  My heart goes out to Charlotte and Donal’s children. There is an Irish cliché that goes - his likes will never be seen again, in Donal Gilligan’s case it’s true.  Slan a chara!”

Director Conor McPherson has also expressed his sadness. “It was a great shock and so moving to hear of Donal Gilligan's untimely passing. First and foremost, Donal is a great loss to Charlotte, his three boys, his family, and close friends - he was a great Dad and a loving husband.

He was also one of our most talented and valued cinematographers. I had the great pleasure of working with Donal on a feature film of Samuel Beckett's 'Endgame' a few years ago. He was such a positive presence at all times and his work was always first class.

I have always thought that the films Donal made with Kevin Liddy, for example his stunning photography on 'Horse', contained some of the most beautifully lit cinematography ever produced in this country, rivalling the work of any of the world's greatest directors of photography. Alongside his formidable talent, Donal's infectious laugh, positivity, energy, and mischievous sense of humour made any set he was on a fun place to be. Donal will be terribly missed. He is a huge loss.

Having worked with Donal on projects in Ireland and around the world, Producer/director Richie Smyth today said Donal was a “force of nature” describing his feature film ‘Time of the Comet’, a war torn love story set in Albania after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, as “a staggering piece of work that saw a whole new level to cinema through Donal’s eye.”

On a more personal note, Smyth said Donal’s take on life was “hilarious and infectious,” adding “he made the toughest jobs become fond memories.  To look at the body of my work is to see Donal’s eyes and I’m one of many directors that are lucky to be have known and worked with him. A truly magnificent man, whose light has shone so bright has been taken away from us, he has been a great friend to me and I will miss him forever.

Donal Gilligan, was working on season 3 of RAW when he passed away and recently worked as DOP on Love/Hate.

Jane Gogan, Commissioning Editor, RTÉ Drama, Donal was a great friend, a great professional and irreplacable as one of the top cinematographers in Ireland. He was greatly respected and everyone loved working with him. Donal recently worked on Love/Hate and his extraordinary talent as a DOP shone through on the project. I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to his family.

Suzanne McAuley, Executive Producter, Octagon Films, Donal was at the very core of RAW, he had been with the series since the very beginning. The cast and the crew are like family and Donal was like a brother to us all. Our hearts go out to Charlotte and his four children. He was one of the great DOPs of our time.

A tribute Facebook page has been set up for Donal and can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/A-page-for-Donal-Gilligan/153195494702374?v=wall&ref=ts

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