Thursday 27 October 2016

From Broadway to Carrigstown ... Eamon Morrissey still brings the House down

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Eamon Morrissey
Eamon Morrissey
Eamon in Fair City
Eamon has appeared in over 100 productions at the Abbey

From downing "a pint of plain" in The Brother to Hall's Pictorial Weekly, Dublin actor Eamon Morrissey has been a part of the Irish theatre and television landscape since the 1960s.

The Ranelagh native has spent his life in the theatre and said that The Abbey is his "second home" as he has performed in more than 100 productions there.

The 72-year-old lives in Dalkey with his wife Anne and is preparing to take his one man show, Maeve's House, to different locations across the country as part of the Bealtaine festival.

The play is based on his links with the Irish writer Maeve Brennan.

Maeve was a staff writer on The New Yorker magazine during its literary heyday in the 1950s and '60s and was the toast of the Big Apple's literary scene during that time.

"We were both brought up in the same house - not at the same time - my parents bought the house from her parents," Eamon told the Herald.

"They moved to Washington in 1934 and my parents bought it and were married in 1935. I was an only child and I spent my whole childhood there.

"Maeve used 48 Cherryfield Avenue in her stories - she used the rooms, the doors, she's that kind of a writer, she builds up a picture.

"I know the house so well and it is exactly the way she wrote it. She has wonderful memories of it," he added.

The pair eventually met in the 1960s when Eamon was on Broadway in New York with Brian Friel's Philadephia: Here I Come.

"It all goes back to 1966 - I was going to the theatre in the evening and I was reading a story in the New Yorker magazine and in those days the author's name was at the back of the story instead of the start. I got chills because it was so close to home and it was actually a story by Maeve that was set in the house in Ranelagh," he explained.

"She is one of the great short story writers, there is no question about that and the more I do the play the more I just appreciate the wonderful prose.

"It really is wonderful and because it was the New Yorker they drove their writers mad with their exactitude.

"She would spend a week on a sentence. I think she was happy in New York but she kept up with what was happening back home - she wasn't impressed with what was happening here in the 40s and the 50s.

"The play is based both on her life and her stories. Largely it's to get as much of her material out there as I can.

"So that started it and we met up in the Russian Tea Room - she was very nice. When she was leaving she gave me an anthology of Russian short stories and said: 'It's all in there'."


Maeve never returned to Ireland, she lived all around New York, and lived a very sad life, Eamon lamented.

"It just went downhill from the '60s on. She had all sorts of mental health problems and she became homeless - she was a bag lady at one stage," he said.

"She even took up residences in the ladies rest room in the New Yorker offices.

"It was a very sad existence but certainly in the '40s and the '50s she was the toast of New York," he added.

Maeve was eventually admitted to a nursing home and died in 1993, aged 76.

The city that never sleeps holds a special place in Eamon's heart as not only was it where his international theatre career started, it's also the place where he tied the knot.

"The years in America were wonderful because I was 23 years of age in a Broadway play in New York in the '60s - it was a fairly exciting time," he said.

"There were a lot of things going on, it was great.

"There is the old cliche that if you remember the 60s you weren't there and I do remember them and I was there so it isn't totally true.

"I was back in New York in '68 with Brian Friel's Lovers, Fionnuala Flannagan and myself were the two young lovers in it and that was again, another year of excitement.

"Anne and myself got married in New York during Lovers and that started another chapter. The city is special to us and we were back there last year and it's still a very exciting place.

"It's so parochial in a way. We brought Maeve's House to the Irish Arts Centre there last year and they loved all the New York references in the show.

"From the time I was 23 I've been travelling in New York on the subway and probably in places that I shouldn't have been going and probably in a condition I should have been travelling - with too much drink in me or whatever.

"But over all the years I've never had any problems on the subway. The last time I had some terrible experiences because for the first time ever young people were standing up offering me their seats," he laughed.

In recent years Eamon has become known for playing Cass in Fair City, a role which he says he thoroughly enjoys.

"He's a lovely character and I'm very fond of him. He appeals to a lot of people. He's a survivor," he said.

"Fair City is my first foray into soap and one thing that I have learned is that there is such a big team working together. It's amazing how hard they work to get four episodes recorded a week.


"Once this tour is finished I'll be back in to record my next round of episodes," he added.

He is bringing Maeve's House on tour as part of the Age & Opportunity's Bealtaine Festival until the end of the month.

Bealtaine has grown to be one of the country's biggest arts festivals, with an estimated 120,000 people taking part in this unique event which "celebrates creativity as we age".

"I keep telling myself that I need to slow down - I am 72 but that's one of the things I like about the Bealtaine festival is that it's very helpful to encourage older people to get involved in a creative activity of some kind because whatever you put into it, it will give you back more and it can be very fulfilling for people," he said.

"It doesn't have to be theatre, it can be music or poetry or dancing but I do think it's a great idea to get involved."

Maeve's House will be performed at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght from May 14 to 16 and at the Axis Arts Centre in Ballymun on May 29, see www.bealtaine.com.

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