‘I always wanted to have a career in performing’

Eilish O’Carroll on life, love, and laughter

SHE IS best known as Winnie McGoogan in her brother Brendan’s sitcom, Mrs Brown’s Boys, but now Eilish O’Carroll takes her own turn in the limelight with her acclaimed autobiographical solo show, Live Love, Laugh.

The play, which comes to the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday February 12 at 8pm, is a candid, funny and moving account of Eilish’s eventful life, covering her childhood as part of a large family in 1950s Dublin, tussles with Catholic guilt and self-discovery, two failed marriages, and coming out as a lesbian aged 50.

“I tell my life story in an hour and 15 minutes, so you’re only getting snapshots but you get the interesting ones!” she says with a chuckle over a morning phone call. “It could be any woman’s life, as I found out myself when I wrote it. Life is the same for most of us, all our unpleasant experiences tend to be commonplace and our reactions and emotions around them tend to be similar so a lot of people can identify with the show.”

Eilish was the second youngest of 10 children. “I was the youngest until the age of four,” she recalls. “My mother thought I would be her last pregnancy but three and a half years later Brendan was born. That ousted me from my position as the baby, a very strong position that I had been holding - but I adjusted.

“We were a very competitive family. My mother was a very strong woman and we all wanted her attention and with the best will in the world, when you have 10 children you cannot give them all individual attention, so I learned to be competitive and to perform and to be the one who would get up and impress everyone.

“I always wanted to have a career in performing. I joined a band when I was 15, we did folk/easy listening songs, we thought we were like Peter, Paul and Mary, though of course we weren’t! I did gigs around Dublin with them for a couple of years. Then I moved away and got married and had two children, so my way of exercising that need to get up and perform was through amateur dramatics, which I was involved with through all my years in the UK. When I came back to Ireland I started working with Brendan, initially just doing wardrobe, but in 1999 he asked me would I fill in as Winnie for a couple of nights and the rest is a lovely success story.”

Catholicism was a powerful, baneful, presence in Eilish’s life growing up. “My parents were both very religious, and of course schools then were very much about the church,” she notes. “Unfortunately for me I had the same teacher for a number of years who was an extremely religious woman. It was very much put across to us that we were all doomed to damnation and nothing was going to change in our lives. So when you have that kind of mantra said to you every day you really take it in. When I was growing up, for me everything was a sin, even a thought was a sin.”

Eilish’s first marriage was violent and ended in divorce. She then met “a lovely man” to whom she was married for 12 years and though that union also ended the couple remain close friends. So when did she realise she was gay?

“I had absolutely no idea or inclination until I met a woman and fell in love with her,” she tells me. “It was horrendous having to tell my family, it took me 10 years. I had celebrated my 40th birthday and it took me 10 years to actually deal with it, embrace it and live with it. I had to come back to Ireland to start that journey - which sounds bizarre that this is where I would go to come out - but that isn’t what I was thinking. I wanted to run away from it, to deny it. Yet in the end Ireland was the place for me to do it, because I suppose that is where all the demons started.”

Eilish had been writing down her thoughts and experiences since her twenties and a couple of years ago she started assembling them into the show, Live, Love, Laugh.

“I found writing was very therapeutic, when I read it back I could see things from a different perspective,” she says. “The memories weren’t so painful and some of them were extremely funny. I first did Live, Love, Laugh in Dublin in 2012 in the Gay Theatre Festival and it won an award, which was very heart-warming. I was then asked to take it to Edinburgh the following year and that is where the show really grew. Evelyn Quinlan came on board as director and she was absolutely brilliant. The whole show is a very intimate piece and it makes a lovely connection with the audience.”

Live, Love, Laugh has had rave reviews from the critics in both Ireland and Edinburgh and is sure to delight Town Hall patrons when it comes to the venue. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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