True characters


Fiach Mac Conghail, senator and director of the Abbey Theatre

My first memory of a theatre dressing room. . . was meeting Siobhán McKenna after The Playboy of the Western World in the Olympia. I have been enthralled since by what happens backstage. I remember my mother taking me to plays in Irish at the Peacock. My memory plays tricks with me but I do remember the solitude and refuge of a darkened theatre as comforting. I was encouraged always to go to see plays, in any theatre.

The best day of my life so far was/is. . . without a doubt the days that Síofra and Luisne, our daughters, landed into our lives and that we have loved, tormented and fed since. Less profound but emotional days were Dublin beating Kilkenny in the hurling and QPR winning the Championship.

I get inspired by. . . paintings and photography. The challenge of how artists can catch a mood or an emotion through colour or shade. I’m also inspired by great sporting feats by our sport stars and the courage of actors

The issue about funding for the arts. . . is that is it minuscule. There is a sense that because we are so visible as a community that we are well funded. You would be shocked to hear how much our leading writers, actors, and artists earn in any particular year. We have yet to fully convince our politicians of the essential need for this funding but we won’t give up lobbying and I will use the Seanad to highlight this.

My guilty pleasure is. . . Ambrosia cream rice and chips from Toni’s (not at the same time) – and a pint in Grogan’s.

When I heard I had been appointed to the Seanad . .. I never expected it in the first place. I was taken aback but I took it as an endorsement of what we achieved in the arts and cultural community and how vital our community is for the reputation and the vitality of our nation.

If I lost everything in the morning. . . I’d start all over again. So long as my family stick with me, nothing else matters.

When I tour internationally with the Abbey Theatre. . . I realise that what we have in Ireland is some of the best and most talented theatre artists anywhere in the world. We forget sometimes how good we are and how the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the hill.

My favourite way to relax is. . . an afternoon snooze – a power nap in the afternoon does wonders. It is my only true talent, I can sleep anywhere.

The person who had the biggest influence on me. . . different people in different times, sometimes indirectly. People still influence me. I absorb other people’s energies and imaginations.

My favourite building. . . is London’s Tate Modern. It’s a great example of how a building can be recycled. Nama will give us this opportunity now.

Being Irish. . . I feel so proud and optimistic. I was accused recently of being chirpy. There you go. I know that we are using the phrase Is féidir linn, which we borrowed from Obama, but the Irish invented a better phrase – Ní neart go cur le chéile, which means that we gain strength when we work together.

If I wasn’t working in theatre. . . I would work in other areas of civil society like supporting new migrants or working with Focus Ireland. I work in theatre to make a difference to our society and our country and to try to make sense of the world.

My artistic heroes are. . . Raymond Carver, Edward Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, Fiona Shaw, Chekhov, Dorothy Cross, Marina Abramavic, Stephen Loughman, William Eggleston and any playwright I produce. I’m a magpie.

Fiach Mac Conghail is chair of the board of

In conversation with Sinéad Gleeson