Mary McEvoy: Exploiting farmers who are in crisis is a moral issue - this is about how you treat your neighbours, kicking a man when he is down

The Irish actor on why not being listened to makes it hard to live in rural Ireland

Mary McEvoy. Photo: Frank McGrath.
Mary McEvoy. Photo: Frank McGrath.

Marese McDonagh

Mary McEvoy sounds like she’s shouting. In fact, she explains that she’s “hanging out the window” trying to maintain the telephone conversation, so bad is the mobile connection around her Co Westmeath farm.

The second time we call there are other challenges and she’s apologetic about being a little distracted.

“Don’t mind me. I’m trying to block a gate. The sheep and the rams got mixed up”.   

We make sympathetic noises, although thinking that the animals seem to be having a jolly old time. And indeed they are, because although McEvoy is anxious that there be no romance within her flock, she’s providing something of a sheep sanctuary on her farm.

The sheep are there simply to “live out their lives” as the actor, who lives on the farm she inherited from her late parents Larry and Catherine , has a horror of  lambs, or indeed cattle, being literally led to the slaughter .

She’s not an easy woman to label. On Saturday (April 28) she stars with long time collaborator Jon Kenny in a production of John B Keane’s The Matchmaker in what sounds like the perfect setting, the “Ballroom of Romance” in Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, a venue immortalized by William Trevor with his heartbreaking tale of loneliness and desperation.

Mick Lally as Miley, Mary McEvoy as Biddy and Joe Lynch as Dinny in a scene from 'Glenroe'
Mick Lally as Miley, Mary McEvoy as Biddy and Joe Lynch as Dinny in a scene from 'Glenroe'

With her rural background, we wonder does McEvoy think it and Keane’s play about the quest for companionship, resonate today .

She’s not sure that she sees that kind of loneliness within her own community, she muses, but “there is a loneliness in general in life”.

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“Around here  I don’t see anyone who is very isolated, except though their own decisions. I see people who like their own company. I would not necessarily call them isolated."

She is conflicted about how technology has changed lives, how it can keep people connected but also do the opposite as people stare at their phones all the time, even in company.

“I see a lot of that in Dublin. Get a bus in Dublin and everyone is on their phone. Nobody really talks. I spend an awful lot of my life in Dublin, and it’s still a culture shock - the rudeness of drivers for example, who will not even consider that you might not know where you are going, and give you a chance."

While describing herself as a liberal in her attitudes, Mary McEvoy is less than impressed with the tendency in some quarters to not even allow people to express a more  conservative point of view, no matter how deeply held. As the debate rages in the media about the the upcoming referendum, the actor says she believes Irish society is increasingly “urban-centred”.

“All the major radio and TV stations are understandably urban-based, but consequently they spend a lot of time talking to themselves and not really realising there is a whole country out there that they know nothing about."

She remembers recently visiting a small town with a city colleague who seemed shocked that people still attended church. She said ‘My God, people still go to Mass’. It’s that not knowing that this place exists. 

"There are conservative views that I might not be in agreement with but they have a right to be heard. I do think there is a kind of urban right on-ness which means you have to be very careful of  what you voice, what you’re in favour of and what you’re not in favour of. There are certain things you can’t say in an urban setting.“

Another bugbear about living in the country is the need to 'shout louder' to get services which are vital.

Mary McEvoy
Mary McEvoy

“For instance I am an actor and I am living in Westmeath and today my internet is down. I reported it four days ago and it is still not fixed. I have no landline. I have a very dodgy mobile line, no broadband, nothing. How am I supposed to get emails from my agent if I get an interview. Nobody has come. Nobody cares”.

McEvoy pointed out that her husband Garvan Gallagher is a musician and both of them need to communicate or they will lose work.

“We need our emails. We need our phones to work. There is just this cavalier attitude that four days is okay”.

Farmers need the internet too, she stressed, for doing their accounts and for keeping in touch. “I see it all the time, people not being heard, not being listened to, not being respected really. It makes it hard to live in rural Ireland."

But lest anyone think that McEvoy is placing everybody in rural ireland on a pedestal , mention of the fodder crisis sparks a  furious reaction about the “profiteering” of some farmers at the expense of others who are going through a crisis.

“What some farmers think it is okay to charge another farmer for a bale of hay is disgusting”, she says . McEvoy cites a recent example she knows of, where someone who had bought straw for €14 a bale, offered to sell it on to someone who was badly stuck, for €35.

“I cannot describe to you how that makes me feel”, she says citing other examples of people who asked exorbitant prices for bales of hay. A practicing Buddhist, who hasn’t been to Mass for a while, she says she imagines there have been a few sermons in churches recently about the eighth amendment but she suggests that exploiting farmers who are in crisis is also a moral issue.

“This is about how you treat your neighbours, your fellow man, kicking a man when he is down, or a woman.”

She insists that it hasn’t happened in her own community where farmers fared better this winter with many getting a second cut of silage, but says she has heard of several cases elsewhere. “I  think it is rotten, just rotten”.

Her own farm is “more of a zoo”, she says. The most famous resident is Jake, her three-legged dog who she estimates is 107, when you translate the dog years. 

She also has cats, a donkey, hens, the retired sheep, but no cattle. She has planted a lot of forestry all of it native. She acknowledges that she is lucky to have an acting career, which means she doesn’t depend on the farm for a living, so it may be easier for her to rail against the “slaughter of animals”.

“I have got to the stage where I am uncomfortable with an industry that props itself up by the slaughter of animals. I am not a vegetarian and nobody is more fond of a bit of steak than myself,  but to create a market in order to kill more, is something that does not sit with me at all”.

She says she also has a problem with live exports and with factory farming.

Andy while she won’t say that farmers are stocking too many cattle,  she does think that lessons have to be learned from this winter as “climate change  is never going away”.

The Matchmaker by John B Keane, directed by Michael Scott with Mary McEvoy and Jon Kenny, at the Ballroom  of Romance, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim, April 28.

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