Eilish O’Carroll is instantly recognisable for her role as Winnie McGoogan in Mrs Brown’s Boys.
However, she also has a play of her own, based on her own life, Live, Laugh, Love, which is in equal parts hilarious and poignant.
Addressing certain issues through the lens of humour, Eilish feels, makes these topics more accessible and less daunting for people.
“The play is sprinkled with a lot of laughter, but a lot of serious content as well,” Eilish explains.
“I think if you can be light-hearted about a topic, you can get a message across more easily. You can say something in humour which can actually really change an unpleasant memory for somebody. You then have a completely different slant on it.”
In Live, Laugh, Love – which is touring Ireland throughout November and December – Eilish addresses many things. From her first orgasm, to failed marriage, discovering she’s gay, the menopause and more, it’s all covered.
“When I talk about my first orgasm on a bus, it wasn’t something I expected to happen, but it happened. The guilt around that, I was like, ‘God, there’s something wrong with me.’
“I also talk about my failed marriage, my first one. Which unfortunately for me happened to be a very violent marriage. Then I talk about my second marriage to a wonderful man and at 40 discovering that, actually, I might just be gay. Then the process of that and how that affected me. Again, on a conscious level thinking, ‘How disgusting am I?’”
Discussed in the one-woman play is the affect growing up in staunchly Catholic Ireland had on Eilish and the guilt that came with it.
Of course, you can’t discuss Catholic guilt without talking about sex, something Eilish doesn’t shy away from in the play. Growing up being unable to talk about sex, Eilish says, leads to a lot of misinformation around the topic and gives you a distorted view of sex.
“The only message you got about sex was: you don’t do it, and you certainly don’t enjoy it if you do do it! It’s there for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to have kids.
“I was quite surprised at the amount of young women who could relate to it. I thought Ireland had changed. I thought the messages were different. In some families they are, but in a lot of families they aren’t.”
Eilish believes by not discussing sex, we make it into a much bigger thing than it ought to be. “I honestly believed my first time would be like in the movie Ryan’s Daughter. I watched it thinking, the Earth actually does move. Well, actually it doesn’t. It doesn’t move!”
Growing up in a family of 10 children (Brendan O’Carroll is her brother), Eilish says she was always funny and all of her family possess a quick wit. She always wanted to be an actor, singer and dancer, which did happen for her, just later in life.
Living in the UK, Eilish used amateur dramatics to exercise that love of performance in her. When she came to work in showbiz first with Brendan, it was actually initially in a behind the scenes role.
“It was 94-95 when Brendan asked me to join him. I was going through a bad time. He said, ‘You’re always talking about coming back to Ireland, why don’t you come back and take a job with me. I’ve written a play and I need a wardrobe mistress.’ Now, it wasn’t Mrs Brown at the time, it was another play.
“I couldn’t thread a needle, never mind sew, but I thought, go on I’ll do it. I joined the circus, as they say, and that really was the beginning of all of this for me.”
By 1999 Brendan had written the first Mrs Brown’s Boys play. Eilish, still the wardrobe mistress, was given £50 to dress all the characters. She and Brendan came up with Winnie’s image at the time, modelled on their mother’s best friend. Eilish bought all of the gear Winnie wore.
“I remember finding Winnie’s shoes, dress and apron in a little charity shop in Dublin. I was still wearing that dress and shoes 15 years later. The only time the shoes were changed was a couple of years ago. They were old when I got them, but they were just what Winnie would wear,” Eilish says.
When a cast member was called away on another production, Eilish got the call up to act as Winnie and is still doing it all these years later.
Speaking to Irish Country Living, Eilish has just recorded the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas and New Year’s Eve specials.
Even after 20 years on stage and 10 years on screen, she’s loving it now more than ever.
“One day it will come to an end, we all know that, but I hope it’s not too soon. No one thought this would go on over 20 years and over 10 years we’ve been on telly. It’s just phenomenal.”