Saturday 16 November 2019

Maire Eilis and the art of playing a superbitch

FOR any actor who stands the test of time in a long-running soap, it's natural to get conflated with the character you play. Five minutes in the company of Maire Eilis Ni Fhlatharta, however, is enough to dispel any lingering suspicion that she might have something in common with Catriona Ní Loideain, Ros na Run's resident superbitch.

While Catriona is an occasionally unbearable mixture of sharp and sensitive, Maire is warm, self-effacing and maternal - on the day we meet she's just braved the hormonal teenage masses at an X-Factor concert where she was chaperoning her daughter Kayleigh.

"Well, Catriona has a child now too", she says, laughing, "so we don't see too much of her. I suppose Spiddal, where I live, is a small town and a lot of people would know me there so they'd know I'm nothing like her in most respects."

The soap is not filming at the moment - they do six months on, six months off, which in a way is a welcome break for Maire, but also leaves her at something of a loose end in terms of work. For years she supplemented her acting work with work in a boutique in Spiddal which she owned and ran with her sister.

It has now closed, however, another casualty of the recession, she says. "Tourism would be a big thing and when that started to drop it hit the whole town hard. People didn't have the time or money to travel to Spiddal.

"What was the turning point where I knew it wasn't working? Well, we could feel it slowly happening, and then I had an option to get out of the lease. I had two children at the time and I wanted a third. And I thought, you know in five years' time I can start another business if I want, but family is more important. I guess financial stuff does come into it, although, not too much."

Maire is married to Eric, a Dublin-born engineer, and besides Kayleigh they have two other daughters Rebeccah (7) and Ellie (3).

Maire herself comes from a large family of seven. Her father was a farmer, her mother a home-maker, and while she loved amateur dramatics growing up she never suspected it might one day be possible to do it as a professional.

"When I was younger I did want to be an actress but I always thought I'd end up being a teacher. I loved being in school plays and being in drama societies in college. I did hotel catering in Galway and went to Switzerland for a year working for that. I went back to college and did a post-grad in communications. At the time there was a lot of hope in the air. TV3 and TG4 were just getting online and it seemed like there was a lot of opportunities, we just got the CVs out there, the job opportunities turned out to be brilliant."

She took the part of Catriona in Ros na Run and never looked back.

Over the years, Maire has had some of the more eventful storylines in the show: "In one, Catriona had an old flame who turned out to be a paedophile, and he interfered with a girl who was working for me and she tried to tell Catriona but she didn't believe her.

"She was so hung up on having a child that all she was worried about was getting pregnant and in the end all hell broke loose. It was pretty dark stuff. A storyline like that is not always easy to leave behind at the end of a day but you just get on with it. Sometimes real life can be harsh on people too!"

Although Ros na Run has left its mark on the public consciousness, she doesn't think that the soap's purpose should be to promote the Irish language: "I think it's first and foremost entertainment, and if it happens to help people remember the Irish they learned or give them the courage to learn more then that's all great. But before any of that it's just great drama."

Donal Lynch

Ros na Run is on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8.30pm on TG4

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