Shape I’m In: Maura O’Connell, musician

THOUGH a legend in folk music circles on both sides of the Atlantic, singer Maura O’Connell was “thrilled” to accept a minor role in the Martin Scorsese’s award-winning Gangs of New York in 2002.

Shape I’m In: Maura O’Connell, musician

“It was a wonderful experience and having seen how the film was made, by just being there, was very interesting. It certainly made me empathetic to actors because it is a very dreary process.”

Cast as an Irish street singer, she spent four weeks on set in Rome, rubbing shoulders with Cameron Diaz, Leonardo di Caprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson along the way. And when it came to opening night in her adopted home town of Nashville, she did it in style. “I wasn’t invited to the other premieres. A friend of mine brought a red bath mat so I could have a red carpet.”

Aged 56 and married to Mac Bennett, they have a son, Jesse who has cerebral palsy. “It’s a spectrum — he uses a cane in the house and a chair when he is out and about,” says Maura, adding he is a national US history Bee champion. “He’s finished high school and has taken a year out to get more physically strong and then will go to college next year... He is a very smart boy, too smart for his mammy sometimes let me tell you.”

* Maura O’Connell and Karan Casey will be joined by accordionist Martin Tourish and guitarist Ed Boyd at the Triskel Arts Centre, Cork on Thursday January 22 at 8pm.

What shape are you in?

I’ve been in better shape and I’ve been in worse shape. There is a walk I do around a lake and, depending on the walk I do, it’ll take between 40 minutes and an hour. If it’s bad weather I have a walking machine in the house. I go through phases of being very fit and not so fit.

Do you have any health concerns?

I’ve a bit of arthritis and a little bit of blood pressure, which is hereditary but it’s not in the danger zone or anything like that. I’m keeping an eye on it.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I like vegetables. I don’t eat a lot of meat but I wouldn’t necessarily have any healthy eating habits other than trying not to over-do the sweets. At various times I’ve tried out different diets and I’ve never settled on any one of them. As my mother used to say, ‘just sit back from the table’.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

Having a housekeeper come in once a week to make sure the corners are not messed. I’m a great cook but a terrible housekeeper.

What would keep you awake at night?

Sometimes I worry about Jesse’s future. I don’t want to make an issue of that because he is an intelligent man and will fare well in the world. It’s mostly social stuff and people’s perception.

How do you relax?

I like to have friends around for dinner. I find that very relaxing and I find it my most pleasurable thing to do.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

I would be curious to talk to my grandmothers about their experiences in the wars because I was young when they died. Both were widowed early and had children. My father’s mother was a captain in Cumann na mBan and my other grandmother hid guns in the house and changed horses for someone on the run.

What’s your favourite smell?

The sea on the west coast of Ireland — when you get the smell of seaweed. I don’t feel I’m home until I get that smell.

What would you change about your appearance? When I was younger, I would have been more obsessed with my appearance but as I’ve gotten older there is not much that I would change. The wrinkles all bring something and are all part of life. That’s not to say that I think I look fantastic or anything like that.

When did you last cry?

A friend died recently and I cried a lot. And a friend’s son died recently and I cried for days — there is nothing sadder than to witness a family who have lost a dearly beloved son or daughter. I cry at movies and a song will make me cry.

What trait do you least like in others?

A lack of empathy.

What trait do you least like in yourself?

A need for perfection.

Do you pray?

Not traditional prayers — I have wishes.

What would cheer up your day?

A beautiful piece of music. Hearing a good musician. Reading a poem that brings me to other parts of life.

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