The oul’ fellow

As we gear up for Bealtaine, the annual festival celebrating creativity in people as they age, actor Eamon Morrissey relects on growing older


I find it hard to believe that I am now officially an oul’ fellow. But I was 70 last January, so that’s that. Yet when I start talking about being old, the words I use seem to belong to someone else. Of course, as an actor, I am well used to speaking other people’s words, but I am also, as an actor, supposed to believe in what I am saying. And that is my problem; I don’t really believe myself when I talk old.

I spent much of my life listening to oul’ fellows telling me how the world had changed since their day, how I didn’t understand what real hard times were, and how people cared for each other back then.

For me to now start reciting that litany just doesn’t suit me. Not that nowadays I don’t enjoy oul’ fellows chat; I wallow in it.

Recently five of us, all male cousins, had a reunion. We had all grown up together but hadn’t seen each other for years, bar the odd funeral. So it was quite an occasion. Spontaneously, our first topic of conversation was not families, but health; both personal and general.

We had finished our second pints by the time we had dealt with prostates, stents, and other matters. Only then did we get on to Leinster Rugby and things more appropriate to Kiely’s of Donnybrook in Dublin, where we were.

Later over dinner we dealt extensively with families, children, our own childhoods, and all our long-dead parents. I was heartened at the amount of objectivity there was around the table. Things that might have embarrassed, even angered us years ago, now seemed to have been given a balanced perspective. I notice this growing objectivity in myself about other things, and if this perspective (or is it wisdom?) is a consequence of aging, I like it.

Of course we have to be on the watch out for “degenerative signs”, as the doctors call them, and there are plenty of them around, real and imaginary.

Here is the latest one; mislaying things. Ann and I went to London last weekend. Between here and there I can’t tell you how many times we squabbled over mislaid boarding passes, mobile phones, train tickets and booking forms. They were all somewhere, but where?

I could put it down to the chaos created after you have gone through airport security. By the time you taken shoes, belt, coat and phones out of the plastic tray, and put all the bits and pieces back into your pockets, your organised system is wrecked. On the other hand, was it all getting a bit much for us? Were our travelling days over?

We were relieved when going through passport control on arrival back in Dublin to see a couple, much younger than ourselves, with the woman frantically emptying the contents of her handbag onto the floor, saying, “I am sure I gave them back to you.”

At least that is not an age thing. So look at the positive side.

Another positive thing for me is getting my contributory State pension. After more than 50 years working as a freelance actor, it is the first permanent payment I have ever had.

Mind you, I would not like it to be my sole source of income. But then the most positive thing is that I am still working. Apart from the money, I am still doing what I have always loved doing. Working in theatre or television, I am in contact with creative people of all talents and ages and that has to be good for me. Anyway, creativity is like gardening. It will give you back more than you put into it.

As we approach the annual Bealtaine Festival (encouraging older people to get involved in creativity and the arts), I am further convinced of its worth. Self-expression is not the holy grail of youth alone. Get out there and get involved, is my message to my peers.

There is another advantage to being an oul’ fellow or an oul’ lady – not worrying about having to remember names. All my life I have been embarrassed at not being able to remember people’s names. Now, at my age, I am not expected to.

I can use my free travel card to go just one bus stop, what a privilege. Now I am running out of positive ideas. If I start going on about the delight of grandchildren, I will really sound like an oul’ fellow. But why can’t I accept that?

Fifty-five years ago in Synge Street, our Latin text book was Cicero’s De SenectuteOn Old Age. Even then I wondered at the warped, twisted, minds that could subject teenage boys to a discourse on the joys of old age. It all seemed so boring, self-righteous and pedantic. Then a couple of years ago, as part of another project, I had occasion to revisit Cicero’s De Senectute . What I discovered was that, certainly in translation, Cicero is still a boring, pedantic, self-righteous oul’ fellow.

There is no fear of me becoming a Cicero, but I do worry about becoming the other bit. So this new role of mine as official oul’ fellow makes me uneasy. I have no idea what my lines are, they haven’t been written yet. I can only hope the writer gives me lines that suit me, or are at least, from an actor’s point of view, playable.