Tuesday 12 December 2017

Actress Mary McEvoy: 'I'm very glad I don't have children and I have no regrets about it'

Mary McEvoy considers her hair colour to be quite edgy. Photo: Frank McGrath.
Mary McEvoy considers her hair colour to be quite edgy. Photo: Frank McGrath.
National treasure: Mary with her on-screen family in Glenroe
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Actress Mary McEvoy (61) was born in Co Westmeath as the late Catherine and Larry's only child. After working at the Department of Agriculture, she began acting and combined it with being a farmer. She is best-known for playing Biddy in Glenroe for 16 years. Mary lives with her partner, musician Garvan Gallagher, and has written two books, Ordinary Beauty and How the Light Gets in.

People may look at my hair and wonder why I would choose to go that colour, but I love it. I wanted to go white, but had to make a choice between doing that and having hair left - and bald isn't a good look for me. It's between blonde and grey now and I consider it to be quite edgy, plus it looks good with black, which I wear all the time.

The biggest lesson I've learned is how rich a sense of humility can be. When I was younger, I didn't realise I was being arrogant. If I had that time back again, I'd tell people that I just didn't know my arse from my elbow at that stage, and it wasn't because I believed I was 'all that.' Paring away the layers of my own ego has made me happy, so I recommend stripping away the falseness, like thinking you are better or worse than anyone else, and accepting yourself in the middle.

I have a natural alpha personality, and I don't ever want to let that go or be ashamed of it. It's hard being Irish, and particularly being an Irish woman of a certain age, because you tend to turn in on yourself. I'm not punishing myself on that one, but I know now that I don't, and don't have to, know everything.

I confused my working life, as in the whole organisation around work and RTÉ, for family. There's a familiarity there with family, so while I wasn't difficult, I was probably a bit of a loudmouth.

Love is not about satisfying your ego. It's about letting your partner be themselves, but also having the courage to be yourself around them as well. I'm with my man 28 years now, and see him as another soul. We're together in this life, and I want him to shine in his way and I think he wants the same for me.

When Garvan and I got together, he was separated, and by the time divorce was legal in Ireland, we were together so long that we never even thought about marriage. We've been through as much as any married couple I know and are still together, so there's also that, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it' superstition. Maybe sometime it will be, but it isn't on our list of to-dos now.

I'm very glad I don't have children. Unless we turn this climate around, the grandchildren of this generation will have trouble. I was broody in my 30s, but I think it was because I felt I should be. I would have loved nieces and nephews, but I was an only child, and I never had an overwhelming desire to have children myself and have no regrets at all about it.

My mum died when I was 50, and up to then I kept a lid on my personality because I didn't want to embarrass her. She was an amazingly forceful woman with a real sense of herself, and she wanted a lady, but got a lunatic. I was a wild child; up trees, playing with boys and rebellious. There was a frustration there because my natural personality made my mum unhappy.

I was very close to both of my parents, not that we understood each other. I am very confident that they had a deep love for me and I had a deep love for them, but the expression of it was the hard thing.

I feel more free to be myself now and do my own thing now they're not around. I can say whatever I like, and even if it ends up in the papers, no one is mortified. As an only child, there is a huge link there to your parents and it's never broken really. I live in the house I grew up in so they are always there. I look out in the fields sometimes, and say, "Thank you for all of this."

I am a Buddhist and believe in the eternity of life. As I get older, I wish I had known what my mum was going through with things like the menopause, because I would have cut her some slack. I also wish I had realised then that her intentions were always good. Every time I find out something about myself, I see my mum or have some illumination of how she might have felt at times. I'm really sorry now and I hope she is able to hear that.

Depression lowers your expectations, so when you get to the later stages in life, you're happy with simple ordinary things like sunsets and birds. When you have been down for so long, any little thing is precious. I wouldn't wish depression on anyone but mine is mild. There is static there and I would start fretting about things, and that is really how it manifests in me. I fret, and in order to get by all of that, it takes a lot of energy, so you're not at the starting line when you get up in the morning, like other people.

I am still on anti-depressants, but for the first time, I feel like I don't need to see the therapist every week. My new therapist has me doing really well, and I think I could go it alone for the first time in a long time. Still, I'm living with depression long enough to know it will never be completely gone.

I have heard people talk about it, but never came across any sexism or the 'casting couch' in acting. You only really become aware of parts being thin on the ground for women when you get older. Maybe that's because you don't see it when you're young as you're so enthusiastic, ambitious and driven.

I decided to stop being a farmer last year, but still have my eight pet sheep and lambs. I love them so much, but even with eight, it's still tense because you're responsible for the wellbeing of each one. I think vegetarians are great, but perhaps the welfare of animals would be better served by ethical meat-eating rather than vegetarianism? Maybe we should start an 'ethical' food label, so we know that the creature lived humanely and was then humanely killed.

Mary McEvoy and Jon Kenny star in 'The Matchmaker' by John B Keane at The Gaiety Theatre from April 11-16. gaietytheatre.ie

interview: Andrea Smith Photo: frank Mcgrath

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