'I lost three of my family during pandemic'

Actress from 'Mrs Brown's Boys', Eilish O'Carroll - who splits her time between Dublin and Cork - talks about the impact Covid has had on her family and her upcoming TV and live shows
'I lost three of my family during pandemic'

STAR: Eilish O’Carroll is in a Mrs Brown’s Boys Halloween Special next week.

ANYBODY unfortunate enough to lose a loved one during the pandemic will understand the extra burden of grief endured by their passing during the dark days of Covid restrictions.

It was a heart-wrenching time, when families couldn’t travel for funerals, numbers attending were whittled down, and the bereaved could not draw on the usual strength and succour available to them from their wider circle of friends and family.

Eilish O’Carroll, who plays Winnie McGoogan in smash hit comedy Mrs Brown’s Boys, knows the feeling only too well. Herself and her brother Brendan, who plays the central character Agnes Brown, in the award winning-series, along with the rest of her family, are still grappling with the terrible loss of two of their precious sisters, Maureen and Fiona, as well as sister-in-law Ann O’Carroll, who passed away from Covid-related pneumonia.

“My heart goes out to anybody who lost a loved one during this awful time. Words cannot express how terribly tough it was,” Eilish said. 

“It broke my heart watching my eldest sister Maureen’s funeral online. She died in the UK in January and we couldn’t attend. And my sister Fiona lived in Canada and died just on the cusp of lockdown starting in 2020.

“I take some comfort in that I had been over to see her about four times in the previous two years, as I knew she was very seriously ill.

“When she did pass on though, I was actually on my way over to see her with two of my brothers.

“Sadly, she died just before we arrived. At least we got to sit with her body, as you do, but then we couldn’t give her a proper full funeral due to the restrictions which had just come in, there was no service, no nothing - that was really hard. It was a very sad and lonely time.

“To make matters worse, my brother Michael’s wife Ann died in February in Dublin. It was such an awful shock. She had been ill in hospital, but rallied, and Micheal was actually expecting her home, but then she was struck with Covid and went downhill rapidly.

“It was so awful for my poor brother and their children. 

"As well as myself, the extended family are still mourning these very acutely painful losses, and at least now lockdown is lifting we are in the process of planning a get-together, hopefully next spring, to hold celebrations in remembrance of the three of them.

For now, though, Eilish, Brendan and the rest of the talented theatrical family are putting their best foot forward to ensure the show must go on. They have recorded a Halloween special that airs next week, a Christmas Special, and a New Year special of Mrs Brown’s Boys at BBC studios in Glasgow.

A scene from Mrs Brown's Boys.
A scene from Mrs Brown's Boys.

Eilish, who is also hosting a one-woman show in Cork in December, said they were thrilled to be back recording in front of a live audience, as that magical interaction between audience and performer was something they really missed.

“It’s wonderful to be back in front of a live audience, it’s lovely,” she said, “we are so used to performing live - and the audience are all double vaccinated of course!

“It really brings that extra sparkle to the whole performance, and it makes it so much easier for Brendan to be spontaneous when there is a live audience to play to.”

His character, Agnes Brown, the hugely popular all round gas woman and Dublin matriarch, would be lost without her best pal and sounding board, neighbour Winnie. Sporting her hairnet and housecoat, and slightly gormless at times, she remains a constant presence in Agnes’s hilariously chaotic life.

There is great comedic chemistry between the pair as they embody all that is wonderful in enduring friendship. The show continues to score high audience ratings as the family sort out their problems and reflect upon life’s highs and lows. It looks effortless and seamless, but there is a lot of preparation in getting those scenes just right.

“Brendan knows exactly what he wants from the scene, it has to be done in a certain way,” explained Eilish. “You cannot change a line in comedy or you lose the beat.

“It’s my job to ‘set up the gag’, it has to be per the script, there is only a teeny tiny bit of room to improvise, and if that occasion arises I have to be totally on the ball to get it right, if I get it wrong the gag is lost, so most of the time I stick to the script. 

"Brendan takes the audience on a roller-coaster with the gags and that is one of the big appeals of the show.

“The Christmas special is recorded twice in front of a live audience, and we take the best from the two. It also gives more people a chance to see the show live.”

So how did Agnes and Winnie get on over the lockdown?

“Well, Winnie took it in her stride, although with Jacko being in and out of hospital, she could not visit. At least herself and Agnes, being neighbours, still managed to have their chinwags over the cups of tea in the garden, keeping a safe distance of course, but like most women of that age group they were terrified and didn’t take any risks, and they missed their families and their grandchildren terribly.”

Jacko, Winnie’s husband, never actually materialises in the show, but Eilish decided she would give him form in real life, and named her new pet dog Jacko!

Her life partner, Marian O’Sullivan, a Cork woman, took care of Jacko while Eilish was in Scotland recording the show.

During lockdown, Eilish and Marian spent some time apart, a tale of two cities, although they are still very much together.

“We are so lucky to have the advantage of two homes, mine in Dublin and Marian’s place in Cork. I am so aware not everyone has that luxury. My heart is in Dublin but my soul is in Cork, and I am looking froward to getting back there.” she said.

Eilish will be heading to her beloved Cork to perform her heartwarming solo show Live Love Laugh at Ballymaloe Grainstore, Shanagarry, Co. Cork, on Saturday, December 4 at 8pm. Tickets via Eventbrite.

Mrs Brown’s Boys Halloween Special is on RTÉ1 on Friday, October 29, at 9.30pm

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