Best known for her role in Mrs Brown’s Boys, Eilish O’Carroll is enjoying a new lease of life in her 60s as she embraces her past heartaches and sexuality, says Margaret Jennings.
AN ONLINE search for Winnie McGoogan, best friend of Agnes in Mrs Brown’s Boys, automatically directs you to the 64-year-old actress Eilish O’Carroll.
However, with two divorces from men behind her and now in a relationship with a woman for 12 years, O’Carroll’s life couldn’t be more different than that of the dim-witted but much-loved next door neighbour, who is often the butt of jokes.
“My bread and butter is Winnie McGoogan — bless her dear little heart, I love the woman completely.
"She keeps the roof over my head, and keeps me fed and allows me to take time out when I have the gaps, to perform in things that aren’t going to pay as well, but for the pure love of it,” she says.
Though the fictional Winnie is her most famous persona, O’Carroll’s real-life story, which featured in her one-woman show Live Love Laugh, lays bare the rich tapestry of her own journey, from her childhood to the age of 60, when she wrote and performed it countrywide and at the Edinburgh festival.
It includes how as a 20-something she threw all her possessions into a black bin liner, grabbed her two sons, Stewart and Lee, and left a violent marriage of “eight painful years” in Britain.
O’Carroll’s second marriage to Terry, “a wonderful man” lasted 12 years, before she unexpectedly fell in love “just after my 40th birthday” with a woman, a relationship which lasted five years.
She was riddled with guilt and also loved Terry, with whom she is still “the best of friends”, but it opened her to her latent sexual attraction to women.
Her current partner is Marian O’Sullivan whom she met 12 years ago at LINC, part of Cork’s lesbian community and who is a stage manager for Mrs Brown’s Boys.
“It’s only when I was going back over it, writing my own show, that I started to realise that I have been through many different lives,” she says.
“But for me I feel life has begun again since I was 60. The success of Mrs Brown’s Boys really kicked in and I wrote and performed my own show and it was extremely successful.
“I’m probably more comfortable about me — and I’m not just talking sexuality wise — but me as a person, than I’ve ever been in my life. I seem to have more energy than ever.
"I’m also painfully aware that I’m 60-plus and I don’t have that much life left [to live], so I am perhaps burning the candles at both ends work-wise, but I’m enjoying every minute.
"Every day is a new day and I can’t wait to wake up and see what it has to bring.”
O’Carroll’s humour and love of performing started as an attention-grabbing device, being the second youngest of a large family.
“When you’re a family of ten and you have a brother like Brendan — he’s the youngest boy and I’m the youngest girl — the competition was mighty in our house and you discovered that if you could entertain them you became the centre of attention, very briefly.
“I have a natural ability to make people laugh, to imitate, to be quick witted, but I’m not in the same league as Brendan. I think he’s an absolute comic genius.
“I obviously became hooked. If most performers are honest we do it because we’re saying, ‘Please like me — look at what I’m good at’. A psychiatrist would probably have a field day! But actually it’s what I love doing as well.”
Next week O’Carroll performs in a drama musical and comedy show in Cork’s Everyman Theatre called Elvis is My Daddy which features her as an ageing diva called Lana Lavelle.
“I love Lana because she’s the polar opposite to Winnie McGoogan. She really believes she’s as talented and as good as she was, 40 years ago,” laughs O’Carroll.
“She is supposed to be in her 60s and she has brought her two daughters on the road with her because she can’t afford backing singers.”
The actress no doubt enjoys channelling Lana’s spirit. From the experience of her own life she advises: “Never give up on an ambition or dream that you have — and don’t let age be a factor.
"I’m at that age now when I look back and say, ‘Why did I allow that to stop me?’ And so, when I say to myself, ‘Oh you’re at that age now so you can’t,’ I have to stop myself and go, ‘Nothing stops you, but your own thinking’.
It sounds like that has worked. While she lives in Castletownshend, her partner Marian has a home in Cork City.
“We love our separateness and love our togetherness and it really works for us.”
Every Sunday she Facetimes with her son Lee’s three children in Britain whom she “absolutely adores”.
Just like lots of other Irish grandmothers do.
Elvis is My Daddy, by John Murphy, is at the Everyman Theatre, Cork from May 3-7 at 8pm.
Still going strong
Country and Western singer Dolly Parton, who celebrated her 70th birthday last January, continues to be an inspiration.
She has spent most of her life performing, having headed off to Nashville three years after secondary school.
Recently she announced she is taking on her biggest tour in 25 years, across the US and Canada, visiting 60 cities, to promote her new album Pure & Simple With Dolly’s Biggest Hits.
It’s clear her energy and attitude are ageless attributes, which have carried her through the decades.
Regarding work she has said: “The only thing that would stop me is if I just couldn’t do it for health reasons, but as long as I can do it I want to do it. I wouldn’t know what to do. I’m excited every day. I still love it.”
Vitamin C focus
The benefits of taking Vitamin C for keeping colds at bay are well known, but a new study suggests it might also contribute towards prevention of cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision as we age.
A study published in the online journal Ophthalmology reported that among more than 1,000 pairs of 60-year-old British female twins, those who included high amounts of vitamin C in their diet had a one-third lower risk of cataract over 10 years.
Getting the nutrient by taking supplements did not appear to reduce the risk, indicating the importance of diet and lifestyle, even if there is a genetic disposition.
However the study can only show associations and does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between dietary vitamin C and cataracts.
Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional — Walt Disney
The inspiring Eve Branson, 91, mother of Richard http://bit.ly/ 1S822Gs
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