In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is an actor, jazz singer, drama teacher and humanist celebrant. She gave the humanist reflection at the inauguration of President Michael D Higgins in November. She lives in Co Wicklow
‘I MET DIANE in 1975 in Ireland: we’re both Americans, both from the midwest, and had had very similar experiences. She’s from a small town in Ohio; I lived in Peoria, Illinois until I was 10, when my family moved to Chicago. We both graduated from high school in 1969, and both dropped out in our freshman year. I was on my way to India in 1972 when I met an Irish guy in London. Diane had a friend whose parents were from Northern Ireland: she visited, and fell in love with Ireland.
“My ex-husband, the Irishman I met in London, is a homeopath, and Diane worked as an au pair for a homeopath: we met through alternative medicine. Since then, we’ve been like sisters. I began working in theatre in Dublin in the 1970s and made a career of one-woman music revues. I worked with the pianist Prof Peter O’Brien, and when he died the heart went out of it. I started teaching theatre at Dublin Institute of Technology 12 years ago.
“I was introduced to humanism through Diane. Ten years ago, she married for the second time and was looking for an alternative service. She had found a humanist booklet that I then read. It clicked with me, and I joined the Humanist Association five years ago. Then I became a celebrant, doing humanist weddings, funerals and baby-namings. It was a perfect fit for me: it involves meeting people to see what they want, writing the ceremony, and performing it.
“I was in Peoria when I got the request to represent the Humanist Association at Michael D Higgins’s inauguration. It was a great honour and an amazing experience. I was trying to be serious but my face was set to smile mode – I was so beside myself with the pleasure of being there.
“Diane and I have seen each other through all kinds of things: whether it’s good news or bad news, the first person I ring is Diane. Our two families are very close: she has two sons, I have a daughter, Aoife, who has two children. She’s like an aunt to Aoife and her kids. We spend Christmas and holidays together. We’re like Mutt and Jeff: she’s tall, a stringbean; I’m short, and on a different diet every month. She’s so supportive, and has never said, ‘Would you stop eating so much.’ We go hillwalking together. When I was doing my shows, she’d come to all my gigs.
“We both absolutely love Ireland, are both Irish citizens. I loved the ambience, the way everyone was interested in literature, music and theatre – it seemed to be a trait of being Irish. Diane and I are both refugees from the US.
“Diane doesn’t go by convention, she’s not a bit interested in money and has a conviction to do what she thinks is right. She grows organic food and is a practising homeopath in Arklow. We would both be proud to be called hippy chicks.”