Eileen Walsh

Another week, another disclaimer: I didn’t consciously set out to run a series on TOTALLY AWESOME women working in the arts, but here we are, another week, another lady I love. Soon a man will pierce these pages, a human tourniquet to stem the oestrogenic flow.

Until then, here is the totally awesome Eileen Walsh.

When I meet Eileen – as I have, a few times over the years – apart from feeling like I’ve known her for decades, I’m always awakened by her honesty. This is in part due to my innate chemical attraction to ‘over-sharers’ – a finding-my-tribe kind of buzz – and because it’s not all that easy to find raw-talkers. Most people deal in finely crafted spin, if you listen hard enough.

Eileen got her first big break while studying a Theatre Studies diploma at The Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College. Landing the role of Runt in the Corcadorca production of Disco Pigs, the show – and her performance – was met with rapturous praise and went on to tour the UK and Australia. Since then she has worked consistently in film, TV and theatre in Ireland and the UK. She received the Irish Times Best Actress award for Terminus in 2008 and the same year also won the Best Actress Award for Eden at the Tribecca Film Festival.

Here she is on bad reviews and swimming, among other pearls.

The Grilling

OR: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

EWA dog groomer. Which would have been a right little earner in NW10 if I’d stuck to my 10 year old dreams.

What or who were you most influenced by in your mid to late teens?

My sister Catherine, an actor too, who ran away to join the urban acting circus in Dublin and I thought she was an early Carrie Bradshaw! Also, seeing Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit made me want in on that world.

When did you start taking yourself seriously?

When I was seventeen. I had an innate belief that acting was something that I was good at and worth following. I worked with Rough Magic in Dublin and London and it felt thrilling.

Did you have a mentor or someone who championed you along the way?

You never really know ’til you’re older who was there leaving a bread trail. But I knew Leo Davis (casting agent) fought my corner when I got left out of one job; and the wonderful Vicky Featherstone always had her hand to my back.

How do people react when you tell them what you do? 

They look sad. Do a head tilt. “Tough job”

“Would I know you from anything?”

In terms of how you work, what is your craft/graft/ instinct ratio?

Love this question! But can’t quite work it out as I think I take some jobs just to work, pay the bills and buy Saltwater sandals for my kids. Each job takes 100% graft as it’s never really “money for old rope”, as my dad thought.

The Craft comes in when you turn up – be funny, be sad, be fragile, be touching, be there.

Do you believe in writer’s/ creative block?

A friend recently took a break from acting (mainly film) to reboot, as their life was mainly set-based and they needed more to draw from, like life in general and probably sleep. I get that work can run you dry sometimes. Like writer’s block it can also help to work through it. Keep swimming.

What do you love most about your job?

The short-term contracts (also the thing I hate).

What do you find most challenging?

Fighting the need to be liked.

Not getting a job, that’s a fucker. Particularly as the older you get the jobs (sometimes) get juicer so not getting them can be a sucker punch.

Hearing: “it’s not always the best actor who gets the part.”

I could go on.

What is your super power?

Spinning classes save my life. I teach at spinn-offlondon.com but even when not teaching I’ll go take a class every day – so good for your head!

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, personal or professional?

Every job is a risk. Having babies was a risk (how was I ever going to feed and take care of other people when I could barely manage myself)!

What’s your biggest fail – professional or otherwise – and what did you learn?

Awful reviews for one show I did. (Meaning, awful reviews for me, not for the amazing production or director so I’ll not name them). However, I did learn to always trust instinct and keep on keeping on with the work even though sometimes it’s like treacle. And never read reviews as they’re out to mess with your head even if they’re brilliant. Read them after if needs be but you always know a turkey when you’re in it so why punish yourself more?!

What is your relationship with time and ‘time management’?

Never late for work. Always late for everything else. Parent/teacher meetings, labour, drinks with mates. Life seems to run away with me.

What experience has most shaped who you are today?

Being the youngest of 6. There was never any money growing up but I have an incredible family. Their humour and love has made me who I am.

What would you say to an 18 year old now, hoping to trace your career?

Instinct. Follow your nose. Read read read. See shows ‘til you’ve got double vision; find only positives (that can be tricky); and, as I was once told in a moment of stage fright, “Leap darling, theatre will always catch you!”

Coming up, Eileen will be on RTE’s On The Hemline, part of their Storyland series; in SKY Atlantic series Melrose and back as Kate in Channel 4 Series, Catastrophe: Season 4.


Mary Hickson

The first and only time I met Mary Hickson was last New Year’s eve, when we were holed up in a friend’s house in the West of Ireland for 48 hours, with enough gin to see us through the winter.  Talking about musicality, or lack thereof, I confessed to the moment that I realised I couldn’t sing – when a 5 am crowd ruthlessly shut down my take on Bob Marley’s Redemption Song – and she convinced me to sing it again.  How we LAUGHED!

It was only then, after I’d doubly exposed my busted pipes, that I learned that Mary was essentially Ireland’s answer to Keith Moon, among many other things. Having studied music in UCC – staying on to teach Ewe Dance Drumming – she went on to do a Masters in Ethnomusicology in UL.  She then joined the original team behind the first Festival of World Cultures in Dublin, managed the Poetry Now Festival, was Director of O’Reilly Theatre, among many other projects before she returned to Cork in 2009.  From 2010 to 2015 she was CEO of Cork Opera House, responsible for completely reimagining and reinvigorating the creative programme and transforming its finances in the process.  She is now Director of Carraig Productions, Clonmel Junction Festival, Sounds from a Safe Harbour and Creative partner on HAVEN festival in Copenhagen; as well as Creative Producer for CrashLands, Crash Ensemble’s 20th Anniversary project.  Apparently she sleeps in September.

I spoke to the all ’round super ledge about blue skies, guts and forging your own path.

OR: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

MH: Honestly, I never had the ‘I want to be a ballerina’ thing; I was a happy little drifter for a long time. Never had a plan or any major ambitions really.

OR: What or who were you most influenced by in your mid to late teens?

MH: I loved music – playing the piano –  and was always doing calligraphy. I remember being a bit of a loner really – loved being creative but content doing things alone. I think I was inspired by me sisters – they always seemed to know where they were headed and I was in awe of that.

OR: At what point did you start taking yourself seriously? 

MH: I remember the moment actually. I was in the Corner House in Cork with some friends and I mentioned the advertised job for CEO in Cork Opera House. I said to them that I was thinking of putting my name in the hat – kind of half waiting for them to laugh – and one of them immediately said, ‘of course you should, we’re the next generation and it’s our time now.’ I felt about 2 inches taller then and knew in that moment that it was my job – the determination was flying out of me.  I had been freelancing for a time in Cork and teaching West African percussion at UCC then. I distinctly remember when I was offered the job in Cork Opera House that I was doing ok for myself.

OR: Did you have a mentor or someone who championed you along the way?

MH: I was very lucky to work with some inspiring people along the way from Jody Ackland at Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire; Mel Mercier in UCC; Olga Barry (a long time cohort of mine) and more recently Bryce Dessner (The National) who I am working with on many projects at the moment. They are all really good with people and care about others experiences which is something high on my priority list.

OR: How do people react when you tell them what you do?

MH: They think it’s interesting and the journey I have been on is kind of unusual too I think. I don’t really fit into a specific job title at the moment. My daughter is talking a lot about what she wants to be when she grows up and she has a list that she rattles off which ends with ‘and the stuff that you do mammy.’

OR: What do you love most about your job?

MH: Seeing the project realised to the best of its potential.

OR: What do you find most challenging?

MH: Budgets are always hard when you have big plans – there comes a point where you have to cut your cloth to fit.

OR: What is your super power?

MH: I am a good people person and I don’t get stressed much. I think I calm people, at least I hope I do – and that gives people confidence. I like to do things differently and am not afraid to take a risk.

OR: What gets you excited?

MH: Seeing a blue sky dream come together – the ‘imagine if we’ and then it’s happening – a bit like having The National and Bon Iver playing Cork in Sept – that has been a dream of mine since forever.

OR: What is your relationship with time and ‘time management’?

MH: I go through bursts of being very disciplined with work/life balance. When the festivals are coming so hard and fast I am working around the clock really BUT the pay back is a long break in September, hopefully that won’t change.

OR: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, personal or professional?

MH: Pulling together the Michelberger Music project last November was a huge moment for me. There were over 120 artists collaborating for a week together and I was responsible for putting the schedules together for them all at the weekend. It sounds like nothing much but it was the biggest professional challenge of my life and we nailed it!

OR: What’s your biggest fail – professional or otherwise – and what did you learn?

MH: I am very emotionally attached to the work. It can be a good thing and a bad thing at times. I have had to accept that this is who I am and how I do things – there’s a lot of love in there but sometimes it’s my enemy. There are times when you need to look at things practically and take the emotion out – I’m working on this.

OR: What experience has most shaped who you are today?

MH: Going with the flow and believing in the fact that everything will be ok I think. I have a very loud gut – always had – and it has served me well. I wish I had tuned into it earlier in life. It was my husband Luke who taught me to listen to it. He is the driving force behind everything I do.

OR: What would you say to an 18 year old now, hoping to trace your career?

MH: Listen to your gut!

Clonmel Junction Festival kicked off today and is running until Sunday July 9th.  Haven festival in Copenhagen is the 11th and 12th of August. Sounds from a Safe Harbour is on from the the 14-17 of September in Cork.