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Memories of Maeve Binchy and her ‘circle of friends’

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Afternoon tea: Maeve Binchy’s husband Gordon Snell and Kathleen Watkins at the Gaiety. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Afternoon tea: Maeve Binchy’s husband Gordon Snell and Kathleen Watkins at the Gaiety. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Afternoon tea: Maeve Binchy’s husband Gordon Snell and Kathleen Watkins at the Gaiety. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

How author Maeve Binchy would have enjoyed the chat and afternoon tea yesterday as we raised our china teacups to toast the world premiere stage adaptation of her best-selling novel 'Circle of Friends'.

It is 30 years since Maeve wrote the "coming of age" novel about love and friendship wrapped around best pals, Benny and Eve.

Five years later, a film adaptation of the novel was made starring Minnie Driver, Chris O'Donnell, Colin Firth, Alan Cumming and Aidan Gillian.

In the latest chapter of this hugely popular literary tale, hardcore Maeve Binchy fans can catch up on its transition to the stage.

Breda Cashe Productions is teaming up with the Gaiety Theatre to present the world premiere of 'Circle of Friends', which has been adapted for stage by Elaine Murphy and will run from April 6 to May 2.

Maeve's husband, author Gordon Snell, was at the Gaiety Theatre yesterday for afternoon tea held in the dress circle bar.

Guests included Christine Green, Maeve's long-time literary agent, and cast members including Roseanna Purcell who will play Benny, Juliette Crosbie who plays Eve, while Charleigh Bailey and Aron Hegarty were chosen for the roles of Nan and Jack.

Maeve Binchy died in 2012 aged 73. As one of Ireland's most successful writers, she sold more than 40 million books worldwide.

Gordon, who met Maeve in London when he was working as a radio producer, told me about their writing schedule and neighbouring desks at home in Dalkey.

"It worked very well and we would critique each other's work each day. We used to go out for picnics quite a lot, with the Wicklow Mountains being close by," he said.

Guests also included Kathleen Watkins who, with her late husband Gay Byrne, were friends of Maeve and Gordon. They attended the premiere of the stage production of 'Minding Frankie' at the Gaiety Theatre in 2017. Last year saw Maeve's novel 'Light a Penny Candle' being turned into a second stage production at the theatre.

At 85, Kathleen finds solace in writing. A book of her poetry was published last year and she said she intended to finish off the third book in her 'Pigín of Howth' children's series.

It was a day for tea and sympathy and cherished memories about Gaybo, whose interviews with Maeve were always radio and television gold.

Before she left, Kathleen spoke quietly about moments on Gay's final journey last November, like the schoolboys from 'Joeys' out at the bridge in Fairview and then on to Gay's resting place in St Fintan's Cemetery in Sutton, the place, she said, "that Brendan Behan called 'the healthiest graveyard in Ireland' because it is out beside the sea".

Irish Independent