Patrick Bergin returns to Cork with a bit of Blarney

Patrick Bergin returns to Cork with a bit of Blarney
Patrick McSweeney (Patrick Bergin) and the Goddess Cliodhna, at the premiere of the Blarney Stone in Macroom.

Patrick Bergin is back in Cork with an almost- forgotten play he discovered by the brother of one of the 1916 leaders, writes Esther McCarthy.

HIS performance in a show about a grizzly real-life murder sparked a love affair for Patrick Bergin with Macroom. Two years ago, he came to the West Cork town to play the notorious Dripsey poisoner Dr Philip Cross in Murder at Shandy Hall.

It was such a memorable experience for the actor that when he came across a musical that had laid undiscovered for a century, he brought it back to the actors at the Lee Valley.

Blarney Stone, a musical written by John McDonagh, brother of Easter Rising leader Thomas McDonagh, had its world premiere in the town and will now be staged at Cork Opera House.

For Bergin, it represents a welcome opportunity to return to the county. He discovered McDonagh’s work in a heritage centre in the Co Tipperary town of Cloughjordan, where he owns a castle.

“They were doing the hundredth anniversary of the uprising and they recreated Thomas McDonagh’s living room. The family lived in Cloughjordan,” he said. 

“I got chatting with May Casey who’s one of the people running the place. In the course of that conversation she said Thomas was well known for his poetry but not many people knew that John, his brother, also wrote poetry and plays.

While I was reading one, she said he also wrote a musical. What was that about? She said: ‘The Blarney Stone, in another drawer over there’. And it was laying there in that drawer for nearly a hundred years.

Did he have a sense that the discovery could lead to his next project? 

“Well this has been par for the course of my life. I had just finished doing a musical with Briery Gap down in Macroom. So I went back and said: ‘I think I found your next musical’.

He says he’s having a whole lot of fun playing Patrick Joe McSweeney, a flamboyant millionaire returning to his hometown of Blarney with his family with his wife and daughter, keen on social climbing.

“We’re very glamorous but the wife wants to get into high society. As we pass through London at the American Embassy she meets an English lord who has a bit of a speech impediment. She decides that she wants him to marry the daughter so she could bring him to Blarney, get him to propose to the daughter and everything will be happily ever after but of course all chaos reigns in Blarney!

Patrick Bergin
Patrick Bergin

“We have leprechauns and fairies and goddesses. It’s a wonderful time. We’ve brought it to a contemporary audience. It wasn’t that dated, in fact — the mythology is mythology because it’s been around forever and it’ll continue to be around forever. Just tapping into it is the key and in fact we re-emphasise one of the characters in there, goddess Cliodhna, who was the goddess of love.”

It’s been a delight, he says, to return to the Co Cork town.

“I’ve fallen in love with Macroom. No question,” he says. 

“It’ll probably be even nicer when it is bypassed because it allows the town to grow again. The people down there are wonderful and unfortunately they’re having trouble with the Briary Gap, the original theatre, which had a little fire a couple of years back and they haven’t been able to generate whatever funds to redevelop. But it was a wonderful theatre and it would be an even greater asset to the town. We’ve had a campaign on that.”

For a period in the 1990s, Bergin was one of Ireland’s best-known exports, chilling as an abusive husband obsessed with lining up canned goods opposite Julia Roberts in Sleeping With the Enemy.

He starred opposite Harrison Ford in the hit thriller Patriot Games and played Robin Hood in director John Irvin’s carnation of the much-loved tale, with Uma Thurman his Maid Marian.

To this day, he says, he is asked about Sleeping With the Enemy, and feels the story is more relevant than ever.

There’s a lot more interest recently in it and people are asking me to do screenings and talks on it quite often now. It portrays a situation that is very familiar and all too familiar unfortunately. I’m not sure if it was seen that way at that time, as it was more of a thriller rather than social realism.

The actor, from the working class area of Drimnagh in Dublin, says now that he considers himself fortunate to have gotten some early breaks that have allowed him to have a busy working life (he has more than 100 screen credits).

“I was in London living in London and you know Johnny Murphy, who was Joey the Lips in The Commitments? He was a Drimnagh kid, lived next door to a friend of mine and one night he was playing in a pub theatre. Shane Connaughton, who was involved with the production of My Left Foot, came over. He was working at the National Film and Television School and he asked me if I was an actor.

“One of his students was doing a short film and he thought I was right for the lead. I met with the student. I did the film, one of the best things I ever did, a half hour comedy called No Man’s Land.”

Patrick Bergin returns to Cork with a bit of Blarney

At the time Bergin, who started off his performing career busking across Europe, was performing gigs in Norway and because he had a standard Equity contract, had a card for the actors’ association. One day, his music agent suggested he present the card to an actors’ agent across the corridor.

“He took it and I haven’t stopped working since.”

Next week, he’ll start work on There You’ll Find Me, a new drama shooting in the Co Louth town of Carlingford with US Shadowhunters star Katherine McNamara and Derry Girls’ Saoirse-Monica Jackson. 

“I’m playing a busker which is very relevant, as I started off busking. But I’m playing a fiddle playing busker which is a bit of a challenge and I have to at least look like I can play the thing.”

He’s also been working on a few scripts of his own, and says he’s eager to get some of his own stories out there. What does he like to do when he’s not acting? He pauses.

“I’ve always got something to do, and I paint, I write songs, I play songs, I hang out. I still have the castle in Cloughjordan and I don’t spend enough time there. I’ll hopefully spend more time there this summer. It needs a bit of love and tenderness.”

The Blarney Stone comes to Cork Opera House on Wednesday, May 29

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