Derry Girls star Siobhan McSweeney has revealed that she was always encouraged to speak up by her parents and auntie.
The actress, who plays Sister Michael in the hit Channel 4 show, was a guest speaker at a recent event in Galway celebrating International Women’s Day.
The European Capital of Culture is hosting a series of events paying tribute to the achievements of women from both Ireland and abroad, as part of the ‘Wild Atlantic Women’ campaign.
McSweeney was publicly interviewed by writer Susan McCay, who was one of the founders of the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre.
Ahead of the event, McSweeney said: “She is absolutely a woman who is an inspiration. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to talk to her. I see the event not so much as an interview but as a conversation, a communal thing. If I’m the filter through which we get to celebrate Irish women, then I’m happy with that.
“The world is on fire at the moment and in the middle of all of that chaos, Irish woman are fighting for their rights, telling their stories and bringing themselves out of the shadows. It’s utterly inspiring.”
The Wild Atlantic Women event saw performances from all sorts of artists, including poets, dancers, singers and writers.
McSweeney was delighted to be included in the celebration of culture, saying it is this variance that “makes life worth living”.
She said: “You can work to live or live to work but art and culture are what makes a place worth living in. It’s what makes us people with souls and not capitalist automatons.”
McSweeney revealed that from young age she was encouraged to stand up and speak for her mind.
She said: “I am the result of many generations of remarkable woman. My mum, dad and my aunt always told me to speak up.
“In the ’80s she used to look at Margaret Thatcher on TV, and nudge me and point at her. She loved seeing a woman holding court. Mum would say to me that Thatcher was the example that you, too, can be heard.”
McSweeney has become a hugely popular figure in Ireland and the UK for her portrayal of the sharp-tongued, sarcastic Sister Michael in Derry Girls.
With the show being written by ‘original Derry Girl’ Lisa McGee, and the lead characters the schoolgirls and their female role models, it is a celebration of the female talent throughout.
McSweeney added: “There’s a universality to what Lisa has created. Myself and all of the cast get contacted from all over the world by people who relate to the show. They might come from different cultures and speak different languages, so their lives are superficially different, but they see themselves in the show. Art connects us.
“Plus, it’s good to be reminded that teenagers are awful.”
As Sister Michael, McSweeney was one of the key characters of the show, as the figure of authority and discipline for the girls.
She said: “It’s weird being known as a nun for a trillion reasons. When the first series of Derry Girls was being released it was when the disgusting revelations of Tuam were coming out. I felt physically nauseous about what I was hearing. I’m still not able to look it straight in the eye. The land is vomiting up our past, and we have to face it at some point.
“But Sister Michael comes from a place of authenticity and is written from events that were true in Lisa’s life. I was never taught by nuns. I play Sister Michael as a woman primarily. And there’s something admirable in a woman who works in the education of woman. I had no interest in playing a ‘comedy nun’ though.”
For fans of the Derry Girls, here is a compilation of some of Sister Michael’s best bits.