Three ages of summer with Camille O’Sullivan who recently finished her run at the Edinburgh Arts Festival.
We travelled to France to see my mother’s family, getting the ferry from Ringaskiddy, very close to where we lived in Passage West. Then we’d do the long drive south.
In those days my father had a Hiace van so my sister, myself, my mum and dad slept in the back of the Hiace van en route to Bordeaux. I thought that was normal for a family. My parents were close to a divorce until my father started putting my mother in hotels.
Our family came from a vineyard family so my parents were delighted to end up drinking wine which came from a little tap from the vats.
I have incredible childhood memories of my French grandmother, a little red-haired lady, and following her around the markets. She used to pick up fruit and smell it. I was watching, thinking: what’s she doing? To this day, I still think of her when I’m shopping for vegetables.
It was a very different life to what I was living in Passage. They were magical times.
You’d get up in the morning with your hot chocolate, get your hair plaited and be eating your croissants.
Then a full, six-course meal. It was food all the time. It was an obsession. I went back as a teenager as a vegetarian. It wasn’t accepted. I was force-fed meat. It was an absolute no-no.
After finishing the Leaving Cert, I went with friends who I went to boarding school at Rochelle in Cork up to the place where John Lennon had his island [Clew Bay, Co Mayo], and stayed in a little hotel facing it.
Oh my god, the excitement. We got a train up there and whichever the junction was, half of us got lost, arriving a day later. It was an old hotel, falling apart, with a bar attached to it.
There was 12 of us. Nobody was on the same clock. Some people were going to bed at 4pm, some were getting up at 4pm. People were sleeping out in the garden on beanbags. We were crazy.
“Where are the rest of them?” “They’re in the sea.” “But it’s one o’clock in the morning.”
Funny, I met 50% of those people recently in Cork. We had been bound together in boarding school. You live a small microcosm world together where you mean everything to each other.
That’s your family so we knew each other very well, and had leaned on each other as students, but that was the year we knew we’d all go our different ways.
We knew we were on the brink – that our lives were going to change forever. You realise it but you don’t know the magnitude. I’m not a teenager anymore. You think you’re close to that age, but then you meet people that age and they’re just like little fawns.
Both my partner [actor Aidan Gillen] and myself travel for work. When I was touring Australia/New Zealand, he came there so he could have a holiday with me. Then I hung out with him in Vancouver while he was filming Planet Blue Book.
He’s working all hours but we still managed to squeeze in walks and stuff. There was a swimming pool right on the seafront. Of course I was staring at the child’s slide that spins around, and it was closed.
It was all I wanted to do. After I dried myself I saw about 10 children queue up. Nothing would do but to go up that thing so off I went and shot out the bottom of it.
“You gotta do it,” I said to him, and off he went and did it. Even if it’s just five minutes flying down a slide, that’s good enough for me – my holiday was made.
— In conversation with Richard Fitzpatrick
Camille O’Sullivan recently finished her run at the Edinburgh Arts Festival, and performs at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, on Saturday, October 19. See: camilleosullivan.com