Sunday 17 December 2017

From island life to the glitz of Hollywood

Growing up on the Aran Islands is a world away from working with Mia Farrow and Barbra Streisand, Roisin Derrane tells our reporter

Roisin Derrane still works with her sister, Maura. Photo: David Conachy.
Roisin Derrane still works with her sister, Maura. Photo: David Conachy.
Liadan Hynes

Liadan Hynes

'I think growing up on an island, you are more relaxed than your average bear," smiles Roisin Derrane. Sister of TV presenter Maura, Roisin is one of Ireland's top make-up artists, having worked with everyone from Ali Hewson to Helena Christensen, Bradley Cooper, Mia Farrow and Barbra Streisand. It's all a long way from where she grew up, in a family of four girls, on the Aran Islands.

"When it's four girls, it's extreme. We killed each other when we were young," laughs Roisin, who is the second oldest, after Maura. It was not unusual for them to remain on the island all winter. "We didn't have that many ferries, it was pretty self-sufficient," recalls Roisin, whose father was a fisherman and kept farm animals.

Needless to say, her teenage conversion to vegetarianism was greeted with bafflement. "Every Christmas my dad used to say 'sure it's only a bit of turkey'." It was the proximity to animals that suggested the move. "If the goat we kept had a few kid goats and one was really weak, they'd sleep in a box in the house. You'd get up at night and feed them."

As a teenager, she couldn't wait to leave Aran. "I was dying to get off the island. Now, I could spend six months there no problem. I think everything's heightened on an island. It's just the quietest place you've ever been."

After a year working in London in restaurants before art college in Waterford, it was Maura who urged her to study make-up. "Growing up, going to discos, I always did the girls' hair and make-up," she recalls. Now, the pair regularly work together, with Roisin often doing Maura's hair and make-up. "We had a good few fights working on Ireland AM, we were entertainment for Alan Hughes." Mostly they would fight over Maura being late. "We'd have a huge screaming match," she bursts out laughing.

Having returned to London to study make-up in her early twenties, she came home at an opportune time. Michael D Higgins, Minster for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht at the time, had pumped funding into the film industry in the west of Ireland, and Roisin walked straight into a world of Hollywood icons, working with legendary producer Roger Corman. Working with Mia Farrow was a particular highpoint. She was "beautiful. Really easy going to work with. A very nice woman, quiet enough."

Barbra Streisand visited the set. "She was very kind," Roisin recalls. "I was never so nervous in my whole life. She really liked her make-up. Because they all warned me, 'if she doesn't like it, that's it, you'll probably be fired'," she laughs. Film work isn't as glamorous as people imagine. She recalls shooting Mia Farrow for Angela Mooney Dies Again, on a hot day in a lake covered in flies. "We had to wade into the lake and muck, and touch her up. Keep her looking fresh."

Much of Derrane's career has been spent in London, working for magazines including British Vogue, and advertising campaigns. These could take her anywhere in the world. "Half a make-up artist's kit would be medicine, antihistamines, insect repellent, heat pads, hot water bottles," Derrane, who has more recently worked on Game of Thrones, explains. She now lives in Galway, and occasionally considers moving back full-time. "When I meet school friends, we always talk about how we have this pull to go back there," she says. Would she retire there? "Oh, without a doubt. Straight away."

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