First Encounters: Elaine Murphy and Gavin McCaffrey

Elaine Murphy and Gavin McCaffrey in conversation with Frances O’Rourke

Elaine Murphy and Gavin McCaffrey Photograph: Eric Luke

Elaine Murphy and Gavin McCaffrey Photograph: Eric Luke


ELAINE MURPHY is an actor and playwright whose first play, ‘Little Gem’ has won awards in Ireland and abroad. Her second play, ‘Shush’, opened recently at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. She and her husband Gavin McCaffrey live in Artane, Dublin, with their son, Elliott

Gavin was cast as my boyfriend in Pure Mule [an RTÉ TV drama series set in Offaly]. I was a Dubliner down for the weekend in Offaly, trying to mend a broken heart. That was in the first episode; we got back together in episode six. I knew Gavin’s name, but we’d never met, even though we grew up near each other in Artane.

I was about 22/23 when I came to acting, hadn’t done any before; I worked for a phone company for a number of years and in a bank before that, in admin roles. I wanted to do something creative, so at night I started an acting course in the Gaiety. I got involved in various acting projects and for 10 years also worked part-time in a women’s health centre – I only left two years ago.

I was up and down a lot from Dublin for Pure Mule, was only in a few episodes. We had a good old laugh. There were a few parties down there. Gavin is quite quiet but I had really good chats with him. I thought he was sweet, a really nice guy and good to be around, so we used to hang out a lot. We left as friends – Gav was in a relationship then.

I was surprised later when he asked me out on a date and even more surprised when he stood me up. In fairness, he had a good excuse – he got a free U2 ticket. We got married in 2011, moved back to Artane. We have a little boy, Elliott, who’s one-and-a-half, and another baby due in August.

The success of Little Gem was a bit of a surprise: it started small in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght and just grew. I did feel pressure over Shush. This is just my second play: I feel like I’m still starting off, finding my feet as a writer.

Initially, it wasn’t hard, both me and Gavin working in the arts. We’re really supportive of each other, but once you have a baby you start feeling guilty about money, feel pressured.

I’m very lucky: I got a place on an Irish Theatre Institute scheme that provides space in town to work in. I wouldn’t have got a tap done with a baby at home.

None of my family were ever in the arts. They get a bit worried before they see a show – oh God, what’s she said about us? I’d given my mother Little Gem to read so she would know what it was when she was going in. She passed away a year-and-a-half ago.

I always remember talking to mam about Gavin, that he was such a lovely kind person. My mother said, “doesn’t it make you feel good to have someone like that in your life?”

I’m lucky to have him.

GAVIN McCAFFREY is an actor and now a singer-songwriter and wedding singer. He lives in Dublin with his wife Elaine Murphy and their son

I first met Elaine on the set of Pure Mule eight years ago. I was cast as a kind of wacky Dubliner who was a martial arts freak. Elaine’s character was my girlfriend; she was wearing a leopard-skin mini skirt. We hadn’t met before, although I’d seen Elaine in a play a couple of years before that. And I grew up literally a stone’s throw away from her in Artane.

I was in the Billie Barry theatre school, singing, dancing and acting. Then I went to drama school in DIT – loved that, was in lots of plays before Pure Mule.

I heard Elaine in the costume changing area and thought, who’s that noisy girl? She sounds like fun. And then we went down to set together in costume, her in the leopard-skin mini and a long coat to hide her modesty. I was dressed in a strange Japanese-style martial arts top.

I got an impression of someone who was great fun, a great laugh, very outgoing. I was only in two episodes but I had a car and because we lived so close, we car pooled – it was really on those car journeys that we began to get to know each other. The first time I picked Elaine up, she showed up with loads of sweets and chocolate for the journey and I thought, I like this girl.

I was coming out of a relationship and finally got up the courage to ask Elaine out for a date. Then I got a free ticket to a U2 concert and had to postpone the date – but she very kindly gave me a second chance. We went to see a film, War of the Worlds, and started going out after that.

Now I’m a singer-songwriter, have a little band. We play in venues around Dublin city centre. I’m always writing and recording in my home studio – okay, Elaine, it’s called the boxroom.

I started as a wedding singer as a gift for friends’ weddings and discovered I loved doing it, have been doing it for five years now. I play piano, guitar and sing. It’s true that some singer-songwriters would look down on this work, but it’s a pleasure, a great education in music because you’re learning so much new material, sometimes obscure songs from a couple’s own back catalogue.

My brother was my wedding singer – he’s a musician too. There was always music in our house – my dad, Philip McCaffrey, was with Dublin City Ramblers for 20 years.

Elaine and I both want to work full-time at our chosen art, want to do what we love, but it involves a lot of juggling right now, especially with Elaine’s schedule. I’m qualified to say Shush is brilliant because I’ve read it about 50 times – it’s really funny.

We don’t mind who gets rich first . . . we support and encourage each other every way we can.

Elaine is so kind, so loving. She’s a wonderful person, a wonderful wife.

Shush, a comedy about female friendship, continues at the Abbey Theatre until July 20th. It will be staged at The Civic, Tallaght, from July 23rd to July 26th and The Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire, from July 30th to August 3rd.

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