After the frenzy of D’Movie Premiere I returned home to West Cork where I was interviewed for the Southern Star. You can find the interview below.
EILISH O’Carroll loved the fact she was coming back home to West Cork after the whirlwind of media attention around the opening of Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie. She doesn’t bother looking at the ratings, but if she did she would see a smash hit currently topping the box office across Ireland and the UK.
Her character is Winnie McGoogan, neighbour and confidante of Agnes Brown, the irreverent Dublin matriarch played by her brother Brendan.
It all started in Cork in the Everyman Theatre in 1999 when Mrs Brown’s Boys began touring. Recalling the pandemonium backstage before the performance she says: ‘We had no time for a dress rehearsal, nails were still being hammered into the set just before the curtain went up. After a few minutes into it, peals of laughter rang out from the audience –then we knew we were on to a winner. The Corkonians loved it.’
Playing Glasgow in 2009 the show caught the attention of BBC producer Stephen McCrum, and was subsequently filmed as a TV series securing prodigious ratings, not only in Ireland and the UK, but more recently in Australia. Eilish is still reeling from the euphoria of standing in front of audiences of 7,000 people there.
Over a cup of tea at her Castletownshend home, she reminiscences about her childhood in Dublin, and what it was like growing up as the second youngest of a family of ten, with Brendan being the ‘baby’ of the family.
‘My mother used to crack up laughing at Brendan’s antics, trying to keep a straight face while reprimanding him was not easy.’
Their mother, Maureen O’Carroll was a Labour TD for Dublin North-Central, serving from 1954-57. Eilish is researching her life story with a view to writing a book.
‘As she was in politics, we were the only house in Finglas that had a phone.’ She recalls frequently having tea interrupted when it would ring and a voice at the other end would ask to speak to a neighbour. ‘It was often an emigrant calling from a phone box in England,’ she says. ‘One of us kids would be sent off to get the requested person and they would call back after ten minutes.’
Part of the appeal of the Mrs Brown phenomenon lies in the nostalgia people feel for a disappearing era in Ireland. Keys were permanently left in doors and neighbours walked freely in and out of each other’s houses.
Eilish remembers her mother’s best friend and neighbour Nancy Pimley doing just that.
‘Nancy and my mother would spend hours sitting around the kitchen table swapping and discussing books like Valley of the Dolls – the 1966 bestseller by Jacqueline Susann. Nancy wore curlers in her hair and the pair of them would smoke fags and discuss every topic under the sun. Nancy was a bit in awe of my mother, and I definitely draw inspiration from her for the character of Winnie.
The on-screen Agnes/Winnie relationship mirrors the friendship shared among women friends guarding one another’s deepest secrets and confidences.’
‘My mother hated injustice and was a campaigner for numerous issues, like the right for female offenders to be body searched by women police officers only.’
She was also a voracious reader, recalls Eilish: ‘The breakfast dishes would be in the sink, the nappy hanging off the child, and she would be at the kitchen table scanning the newspaper from cover to cover – The Irish Times was her favourite.’
Eilish is also passionate about human rights and just recently, in June, was the guest speaker at the AGM of the West Cork Women against Violence Project.
West Cork affords her the opportunity to recharge her batteries and to carry on with her writing.
She wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed show ‘Live Love Laugh’, which received the Doric Wilson Intercultural Dialogue Award and premiered at the Dublin Gay International Festival in 2012. She plans to shake it out of the airing cupboard and tour it around the theatre circuit in Ireland.
In the meantime she is taking a bit of well-earned time out down south.
‘I love the air, the colours, the light, the sea, the creativity of the people, the music, the art and the ad-hoc way things just evolve in West Cork,’ she says. ‘I love it that you can even get to do a course on WB Yeats, through the West Cork College, near Baltimore, it’s all here!’
Maybe it’s the kind of place where Winnie McGoogan would happily pop next door to have a natter with the neighbours, even these days.