Celebrated actress Siobhán McSweeney may have found fame starring in a TV series set at the other end of the country, but Cork is never far from her thoughts, writes Ciara McDonnell
“Oh excuse me, please excuse me!” Siobhán McSweeney is battling a chest infection that sounds like it should have her bedridden, but instead she is giggling her way through a conversation with me, all in the name of Culture Night, taking place across Cork today in over 100 venues. As ambassador for Cork Culture Night, McSweeney says that it’s an honour to represent an event that cherishes the rich culture that Cork has to offer.
One of Cork’s most beloved daughters, McSweeney is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Sister Michael in the runaway hit series Derry Girls, and though the third season is most definitely in the works, she is sworn to secrecy as to what will happen in it.
“I’m scared that I’ll get into trouble if I share any details of it,” she laughs “I can confirm that there is a third series, but then I don’t know what else I can say!”
It’s been a topsy-turvy year for the actress. “I have had a lot of bereavement recently, and I have been spending a lot of time back in Cork,” she explains. In the sadness, however, she found opportunities for light. “Initially of course, it wasn’t for nice reasons, but any opportunity to be in Cork is welcome — I love going home. I have been spending a lot of time with family and with nieces and nephews.”
Hailing from Aherla, Siobhán McSweeney passionately loves her home place: “I so, so love it there, and spending time there this year has been wonderful.”
Seeking quiet times during periods of difficulty led the actress to a new skill: writing.
“Yes, I have arrogantly decided that I’ll throw my hat into the ring and take out the crayons,” she says. “I am really enjoying it; I wouldn’t say I’m any good at it. I have written a few fiction pieces and one will be published later on in the year. Because of the unusual circumstances of the year I’ve been taking advantage of the time and seeking out a bit more solitude than I would normally.”
She has been spending time in the hallowed halls of BBC Radio 4, recording an adaptation of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls.
“That was my first radio play. It’s something I had never done before and walking into the radio studio was just beautiful. It was really romantic, truly.”
Se found herself transfixed by the skills of the Foley artists on set.
“Sometimes film and even theatre these days can be really high-tech and it’s lovely to go into a room where someone is scrunching a piece of paper to make a particular sound,” she explains. “The simple fact that there is a someone who really cares about making exactly the right sound is incredible. There is a sort of DIY and analogue aspect to it and I think it is purely romantic.”
The social phenomenon of Derry Girls must be hard to grasp for a cast who had no idea what was coming from them. What is it like to be a part of a show that is such a success?
“It’s hard for me to see what others see in Derry Girls,” Siobhán points out. “When you start a project, you are not looking to what the show will become, and even now I don’t see it. I’m too immersed in it.”
She experienced some of its impact while taking part in the Brian Friel Arts Over Borders festival: “It was the first time I had been in Derry since we wrapped the second series, and it was the strangest experience.
“People thought I was the character at some points and even though people were coming up, wanting to chat to me, I just thought they were being polite, really.”
With feet firmly on the ground, the experience of being a part of the show has been a transformative one for the actress. “I think we all are, to a certain extent, and in varying degrees, coming to terms with how beautifully received Derry Girls has been. It’s a strange phenomenon. There is nothing to compare it to as an experience in my life.”
As a Cork woman, Siobhán McSweeney embodies the creative spirit that the county is famous for, and it’s in every one of us, she says.
“I think there is an independent spirit in Cork people, you could call it the rebellion side,” she suggests. “There is a touch of Cork people not caring what the rest of the country thinks of them, and I think that creativity flourishes in freedom and as a result, Cork has an air of creativity. It has an air of recklessness, not in a bad way — but in an adventurous way.”
Coming home to act as an ambassador to her home city’s cultural heritage is an honour that the actress does not take lightly.
“You can leave Cork, but you never really leave Cork. To be asked to be cultural ambassador is a huge privilege. In a selfish way, it’s a great honour because I feel welcomed back in and I feel that I can do my piece to show how amazing I think Cork is.”
Siobhán McSweeney is the official ambassador for Cork City Culture Night, which will take place on Friday 20th September across the city, with a vast array of events taking place throughout the evening in more than 100 venues. For more information or to view the full programme, visit www.culturenightcork.ie. #wrapupinculture