Blues to soul: An interview with Mary Coughlan

Irene Feighan talks to singer Mary Coughlan and fins she is back on form with a packed work schedule on and off the stage. 

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my entire life,” says the 61-year-old.

“My mental health has improved greatly. I discovered I had heart disease and a lung condition — that’s why I felt awful. In August last year, I had to start cancelling gigs — I couldn’t walk even 150 steps.

"I had stents put in the following month, on September 3, and did a tour of Germany in October. I have to do breathing exercises but, apart from all of that, I feel better than I have in a very, very long time.”

Mary Coughlan performs at Siamsa Tíre, Tralee, on November 3. Tickets are on sale now.

What shape are you in?

I started cardio rehab after about three months after surgery, increasing my walking every day by a minute. Now I can do 10km at a clip and I go to the gym three times a week. I’m breathing better than I ever breathed, and I’m singing better than I’ve ever sung.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I adore food. I didn’t eat any meat, dairy, or sugar for 17 years. I was macrobiotic and I brought my three children up that way.

Since the menopause, I’ve put up a lot of weight. I’ve tried all kinds of diets to get rid of it. I think it was a combination of being unable to function properly because of my lungs and heart disease. I’ve been getting back on track. I don’t eat red meat at all. I eat a lot of vegetables.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Chocolate or biscuits — anything with sugar, from Curley Wurleys, they come in three-packs now, to the most expensive chocolate you can afford. I can’t stop if there’s one chocolate in the box. My attitude now is to have it once a week and then I can stop.

What would keep you awake at night?

Worrying about stupid, stupid stuff. I have a lot of gigs coming up — will there be anybody at them? It’s something I have no control over. I’m writing a play with Brokentalkers — so that’s given me loads to stress about.

How do you relax?

I love the movies. Around where I live in Kilmacanogue you just walk up and down the road — it’s so beautiful.

I love travelling, wondering around, sitting in the sun — I know I shouldn’t. And swimming — I learned how to swim this year in Thailand. I can spend hours in the water.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Just the family — on Sundays when I’m not working we start about lunch time and it goes on until everyone is exhausted in the evening. Those days are the best days for me. There were many years when I was not fit.

I used to do a lot of dinner parties when I lived with Frank [Bonadio] in Martello Terrace. For me, they were always connected to drink. Now I love going out to dinner and when we travel, we eat out all the time.

What’s your favourite smell?

I have old-fashioned pink roses outside the door, and I have lavender in the garden. I have some lavender on the dashboard in the car and when the sun comes out there’s a beautiful scent. And I love the smell of the earth after it’s been dry and it rains.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

I’d like to lose at least a stone in weight. I’m doing it really slowly because I’ve tried everything else. I’m going to the gym — I’ve been at Pat Henry’s for the past three months.

When is the last time you cried?

Buckets yesterday — my son’s cat was put down. We were both there — the cat looked so beautiful and healthy. It was just like the worse thing. I was crying for my son and the cat.

What traits do you least like in others?

Incompetence just drives me up the walls.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I have a lot of anger around people not doing what they should do — I try to deal with it. I’ve let most of it go. I’ve done a lot of work on myself.

Do you pray?

I pray constantly. I have an altar — there’s a bit of everybody up there from the Virgin Mary to JC, to the Mother of Good Counsel, to Buddha, and Krishna. I do Celtic Shamanism — I collect things from all over the world and put them in a bag. I lit a candle for the cat last night. It’s a very rich spiritual world.

What would cheer up your day?

When I look out in the morning and see the trees and mountains. And when the chickens and the ducks walk up the road every morning from my daughter’s house to my door.

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