Moya Doherty, 56: ‘I love people who can keep a secret’

      Photograph: Frank Miller

Photograph: Frank Miller


Moya Doherty lives in Howth, Co Dublin

My mother told me that before I was born, in Enniskillen hospital, the doctor came in to look at her, and said everything was all right. She could see his golf shoes peeking out from underneath his trousers. He said that he was going out to play 18 holes of golf, and that he would check in with her when he came back.

She was not all right. She had me just after he left to play his round of golf. It was a difficult birth, and she was in bed for eight or nine days afterwards. This may also contribute to my considerable antipathy against golf.

I grew up in Pettigo, Co Donegal, for the first seven years of my life, and then we moved to Dublin. Both my parents, Daniel and Patricia, were primary-school teachers. There were five of us children; I was in the middle.

Education was valued highly in our family. My parents were the first in each of their families to have third-level education. Education was seen as a way out of poverty for everyone then. My parents never looked over their shoulder at us once we were old enough to look after ourselves. They just expected us to get on with it, to work hard.

What I wanted to do was act. I used to send away for brochures to Rada and Julliard, knowing there wasn’t a hope in hell of getting in, but I loved seeing the brochures landing on the carpet and dreaming.

I worked on and off for RTÉ from when I was 21. The 1980s were a terrible time. There were huge taxes, recession, no money, no prospects. RTÉ had the monopoly on broadcasting, and there was nowhere to go. I met John [McColgan] in RTÉ on the cusp of my 24th birthday. I headed off to London for a while. We got married in London in 1986, on Christmas Eve.

I was 35 when the Riverdance interval act happened, and I had two small kids. The success of it didn’t hit for quite a while. I was juggling all the things women who work have to juggle. I knew it was a really fine piece of work but didn’t for a moment think anything else would happen. It just happened there was an interest, and a collective sense that we should do something else with it.

I suppose there’s both good and bad in that level of success. What Riverdance has given me most of all is the freedom to make choices. The less good is that it has given me a profile I was never really interested in. You’re framed forever by this one thing, and in some ways it paralyses you around doing other things.

I don’t know if I’m any different now from the woman I was then. I don’t feel I am, but I don’t know. I suppose what the process has done for me is overcomplicated my life. There’s a yearning for a journey that’s less complicated and perhaps simpler, and to do things that are on a smaller stage and more intimate

Work is hugely important to me. I learned my values from my parents. I grew up knowing you should always be on time and always do a honest day’s work. We have run a TV production company for years. It keeps people in employment in an industry that is tricky. The average equity wage a year is €11,000. I have huge admiration for people who commit themselves to such an industry.

]]] How you treat everyone every day is what is important; how you live your life from day to day. I’ve delved into the Buddhist philosophy. I like what I read about it. I love that line from Jack Kerouac, “Thinking is just like not thinking.” The best ideas come to me when I’m not thinking.

My idea of hell would be to go to heaven and have to talk to all the people you knew in your life. I think when we die, it’s over. The silence from the other side is deafening. I moved away from the organised Catholic Church in spirit at seven, and in reality at the age of 16.

Age has never bothered me. In fact, I quite enjoy getting older, but I think that Ireland has always been an ageist society. I always felt that people were put on a scrapheap who had so much to offer.

I don’t think people should have to retire at 65. I know a lot of people in their 70s and 80s and who won’t say what age they are, not out of coyness but out of the fact that people will view them differently.

We are going to have to address that as a society. We’re all living longer now, and there has to be a different way of thinking about living through those really rich years for people.

The 50s are a strange time of transition for a woman, physically and emotionally; a junction when you look both ways, to the past and the future. I have also seen many women my age who have buried sons through suicide or drugs, and I do fear for young men particularly. I think the emotional wellbeing of young people seems to be seriously under threat.

What I have learned to value in other people – both in work and friendship – is integrity. And honesty and loyalty. That is hugely important. I am staggered that some people can spew out everything with such ease in this society we live in.

The value of the unspoken thought is lost. I think that the qualities of honesty and integrity and loyalty were almost lost, and I value them hugely. I love people who can keep a secret.

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