Wednesday 26 October 2016

Life lessons with Phelim Drew: For a long time it felt too raw to publicly do a celebration of dad's life

John Brennan

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

Actor Phelim Drew and his family are now ready to do a celebration of their father's life. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Actor Phelim Drew and his family are now ready to do a celebration of their father's life. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Father and son: Phelim with his late father Ronnie Drew

Phelim Drew (47) is a theatre performer and the son of legendary Dubliners member Ronnie Drew. He lives in Dublin with his wife Sue Collins, a member of the comedic group The Nualas, and their four children Vivian (11), Milo (10) and twins Seanie and Lily (8). Phelim is currently starring in Once the Musical which runs until the end of August in the Olympia Theatre, Dublin.

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Unless you were born and bred in Dublin, you're a blow-in. Everyone is a blow-in - I was brought up in Greystones and I'm still a blow-in.

We got a new dog a few months ago, a Shar Pei called Paddy Fields - he's the light of our lives. He's a great little fellow and he's great with the kids. He's a bit more wary with adults but he's comfortable with us. I honestly don't know how it has taken me so long to get one. The effect he's had on me personally... I love having him around.

I got into theatre after getting involved in a local drama group in Greystones when I was about 16. There was a fabulous lady called Gladys Sheehan there who had a loyal group of people who worked with her. It was in a very old-fashioned drawing room theatre and we would rehearse on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night and perform on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday night for three weeks. We'd do that from September through to April. I did 22 plays with them in two years. It was an incredible experience.

People in the theatre are made of tough stuff. They are generally resilient and really good fun. I would have been around a lot of theatre people from an early age as my dad was friendly with many of them. I was really attracted to that side of life from an early age.

I have great memories of growing up being a child of one of The Dubliners. When I got a bit older, I got to go on tour with them. One of my earliest memories is being in a hotel in Limerick watching The Blues Brothers on a portable video recorder with the roadie - a guy called Davy Fitzsimons - my dad and Luke Kelly.

Luke Kelly was a very private man. He kept himself to himself a lot. My memories of Luke would be him sitting in a corner reading. He was very gentle and very kind to us but, as children, you'd kind of be like "Hi Luke!" and just keep going.

I never gravitated towards sports as a child. I developed asthma and I was in and out of hospital a lot between the ages of six and 10 and that very much skewed my world in terms of physical kind of stuff. That said, the asthma got better over the years and I got into theatre and very much part of your training as an actor is taking care of your body. While I'm not sporty, I do exercise and I'm much more aware of flexibility, more so than I've ever been.

I absolutely adore Irish music. Having been submerged in the world of Irish music as a child, it's kind of something that I don't even think about - I have a really deep appreciation of Irish musicians and singer-songwriters.

My favourite place I've ever been was Rome. I think Rome is probably the most beautiful city I've ever been to. I love antiquity, I love the idea of things that have survived hundreds and thousands of years and Rome is a monument to good taste and practicality.

In general I don't watch a huge amount of television. If I have time off and am resting after dinner and the kids are gone to bed, I do enjoy watching Grand Designs, food programmes and documentaries.

I'm quite passionate about food. I love flavours and experimenting in the kitchen. I wouldn't profess to be a great cook but that is something I definitely enjoy. I love the process of sourcing ingredients and the social side of going shopping for ingredients. I'd rather go to smaller shops than supermarkets. I make a mean Thai yellow curry, which is not very hard to put together, in fairness. The ingredients do the work for you.

I play a bit of guitar. It doesn't come as easy to me as it does to other people which leads me to believe that I wasn't born to be a guitarist, but it doesn't stop me trying. I've had bands over the years, normally Americana-roots music. It's all for fun, though. I find if I don't play a bit of music and sing a bit, I really miss it.

I'm not a performer who takes it for granted that it will all happen. I like to arrive early and I have a routine I like to do to get into the headspace I need to be in to start. I wouldn't say I was very nervous every night, but there is an element of, "OK, we've got a big job to do over the next two or three hours" and that is sometimes the thing you get nervous about - having the energy for the performance. Sometimes it's a mix of apprehension, nervousness and tiredness.


I didn't know much about Once before I auditioned for it. I'd seen the film and I knew Glen Hansard since the Commitments days - I had a small part in that. He's an absolute gentlemen and I think his passion and commitment to music and to song-writing is incredible. He worked so hard building up audiences from literally the ground up to playing to adoring audiences in the Olympia, and now he's known on the world stage with people like Bruce Springsteen as his fans.

It's been eight years since my dad passed away. For a long time it felt too raw to publicly do a celebration of his life, but it feels like the right time now. We're delighted to get the opportunity to celebrate his life with friends and fans.

'Here's To You, Ronnie Drew!' has been organised by Ronnie Drew's children, Cliodhna Dunne and Phelim Drew, and takes place in Vicar Street, Dublin on Friday, September 2 at 8pm in aid of the Cancer Clinical Research Trust at St Vincent's Hospital. The line-up features John Sheahan, Declan O'Rourke, Lisa O'Neill, Mary Coughlan, Phil Coulter and The Nualas. Tickets are €33.50 including booking fee at

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