Saturday 24 August 2019

Oscar-winner Kate Winslet discovers her roots lie in Dublin

Kate Winslet (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)
Kate Winslet (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

Lynne Kelleher

Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet is the quintessential English rose but she has discovered she has a distinctly Irish branch to her family tree.

In an upcoming episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, the Titanic star confirms her hunch that her maternal ancestors were Swedish.

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But she also finds out she had a great, great, great grandmother called Eliza O'Brien, who hailed from Dublin, on her dad's side. During filming of the show, she visits her father, Roger, in Reading, where she grew up to discuss his relatives. "On my dad's side all I really ever knew is there was lots of pubs, lots of booze clearly, lots of actors. But much more than that I don't really know," Winslet says.

When she begins digging through the family records, she is astonished to find her Irish great, great, great grandmother, Eliza O'Brien, had 11 children.

"What?!!" she says.

"My great, great grandmother Marian Colquhoun was one of 11 children. Her parents were William Colquhoun and Eliza O'Brien."

She stumbles over the pronunciation of the spelling of Colquhoun.

"That is an Irish surname," says genealogist Emma Jolly, showing the actress her family tree.

The programme doesn't explore the background to her great, great, great grandmother Eliza O'Brien, a military seamstress, possibly because there are few records of her life. But the show does examine the life of her soldier husband, William Colquhoun, who was from Holborn in London but had an Irish surname.

His father is also named as William Colquhoun but it isn't known where he originally came from as records for him don't survive.

Winslet is later told he was in the Grenadier Guards, the regiment that guards Buckingham Palace. "I hope he was good at his job because he had 11 children and a young wife, a lot of mouths to feed."

In the hit BBC genealogy show, Winslet characterises her upbringing in Reading as working-class. "My parents never had any money and it was always a real struggle but we were very, very happy. My dad who was an actor always had to get whatever odd job he could."

She gets emotional as she reveals she was partly prompted to trace her roots by the death of her mother two years ago.

She said: "My mum absolutely loved children. That sense of family has carried on in all of us, my mum, Sally, died nearly two years ago.

"She had ovarian cancer, she was an amazing lady, she should still be alive. We all miss her terribly. She was very much the centre of the family, she didn't talk about her family story very much."

'Who Do You Think You Are? - Kate Winslet' will be shown on BBC One on Monday, August 12 at 9pm

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