Former Glenroe actress says forget hating the British and love Yeats

By Grainne McCool @grainnemccool

Former Glenroe actress Mary McEvoy has urged the Irish to “move away” from an image of  “hating” the British – as we mark 1916 – and to appreciate the power of the country’s literary heritage – as she prepares to read the work of W.B Yeats.

McEvoy, an easily recognisable face to Glenroe fans, played Biddy Byrne in the soap for 27 years.

Now she is taking on a role reading Yeats’ work to a Derry audience in Songs from The Swans at Coole on Thursday at the Millenium Forum.

The event will mark the birth of the Sligo poet’s 150 years ago.

McEvoy will take to the stage with fellow actor Des Cave and Irish tenors, Sandra Oman and Anthony Norton, to deliver the poetry to an audience.

But for the actress, this performance, in the year 2016, is more important than ever before in Irish history – for what it respresents – the nation’s proud past.

We often define Ireland as hating the English.  It’s time to move away from this now.  It’s time to love Ireland for being Ireland, McEvoy said.

Yeats’ work is still “very relevant” today McEvoy said, especially as we mark the Easter Rising.

The performance will showcase a new song cycle exploring the poetry of Yeats focusing on his unrequited love for Maude Gonne and the development of the Irish state.

Glenroe's Mary McEvoy thinks we should love Yeats & forget hating the British.
Glenroe’s Mary McEvoy thinks we should love Yeats & forget hating the British.

Poems include Innisfree, Sailing to Byzantium, When You are Old, The Sorrow of Love, No Second Troy, September 1913, Easter 1916.

The poetry is performed by two opera singers who sing the new musical settings of selected poems in an operatic and classical style with a traditional Irish orchestra.

His poetry is timeless – but McEvoy and the rest of the cast, will attempt to bring a new Joie de vivre  for Yeats work with this arrangement.

It is an honour to perform Yeats’ poetry to an audience, McEvoy said.

“We all have a Yeats poem that we like and I get to read some of mine on the Derry stage.”

“The music is very beautiful. There is no beginning, no middle and no end, although the poems are in chronological order.  It’s like one long poem to music and is a real homage to Yeats.”

Composer Michael Scott has produced a new cycle of songs featuring the poetry of Yeats.

Last year Songs from The Swans at Coole toured the country celebrating the anniversary of our beloved poet.

The actress said she has always appreciated the poet’s work but preparing for the performance, has given her opportunity to enjoy his work once again.

“You have to give it to Yeats.  He’s one of the top three poets ever and that includes the Greeks.  The real thing about his work is that it’s not translated.

“He has some extraordinary pieces of work and he really was a genius.  His words ‘a terrible beauty’ are timeless.”

McEvoy appeared on the Forum stage in Derry last year in John B. Keane’s Matchmaker.

Songs from the Swans at Coole will be showing this Thursday and Friday in Derry.
Songs from the Swans at Coole will be showing this Thursday in Derry.


She is, she admits, elated to be back in the city once again.

I’m excited about coming to Derry because of the honour to read this poetry.  I love Derry.  It’s always great craic.

Songs from The Wild Swans at Coole comes to Derry’s Millenium Forum on Thursday 28 at 8pm. Tickets for the event can be bought from:

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