Eleanor instils love of reading in young minds

Irish Examiner, Tuesday, 22nd May 2001

by Gordon Deegan

Actress was once TV love interest for Pierse Brosnan during Remington Steel series.
Gordon Deegan talks to Eleanor Feeley about her Ex Libris project and her love of books.

Eleanor Feeley

Eleanor Feeley has set
the arts scene alight.
Picture: Mike Mulcaire

Two sides of an hour and a half tape, with all but a few reels used up recording the thoughts of award winning producer, actor, writer and all round Renaissance woman Eleanor Feeley - and there are still 15 years to go to be heard in the tale of her life. Such is the full life lived by Eleanor and her vivid descriptions that her jammed packed existence would necessitate an army of biographers. Since arriving in Clare last September her seemingly boundless energy has already made a massive impact on the county’s arts scene.

Typical of her positive impact to date has been her involvement in Clare Co. Library’s Ex Libris project. As director of the project, which celebrates the great qualities of reading books, she has managed to coax wonderful performances out of teenagers who have never acted before. "I really do believe that reading and love of books and literature .... you can’t really put it into words what it does for you. At a moral level, it’s disciplining the mind to think and not want instant reactions and instant gratification. She adds: "Seminal influences in my life in terms of my sense of right and wrong, my sense of what the world is about come from writers such as Charles Dickens, Carson McCullers and John Steinbeck. "I read all those books at an age when I was 14 or 15, before you sectionalise stuff, and I think it went in at a subliminal level and it has stayed with me all my life. I hope it has, anyway. A good book is a great companion."

Through the project Eleanor also managed to bring people from many disparate groups together, such as members from the refugee community, students and disabled people to contribute to a project that has won great praise from a number of quarters, including President Mary McAleese.

So where or who was she before she came to Ennis? Before Eleanor answers, what can be revealed at this juncture is that she was Pierce Brosnan’s love interest as a ‘comely Irish maiden’ in a couple of episodes of Remington Steele that were shot in Ireland in the early 1990s. And she also had a role in Glenroe. However, being an actor of many stage productions in Dublin’s Abbey and elsewhere, any attention to the small-screen part of the career should not pre-occupy the reader over duly. Eleanor says: "You just do whatever works comes up."

At any rate, Eleanor is a native of Oughterard in Co. Galway. Her father was a garda and his work demanded that the family move around a lot. Eleanor attended Crossenpasson boarding school in Co. Kildare ("all cross, no passion", she jokes). Even during that time she felt a connection with Ennis through having relatives from the town. She says: "I loved Ennis, I felt that I had a place I could call home. I had a very, I wouldn’t say lonely upbringing - I have two brothers - but I have been a loner all my life. I don’t know if that is circumstance or whether it is part of me. I have a suspicion that is it an essential part. "Maybe coupled with the fact that a lot of the time I was on my own and an outsider by definition, because we would be coming into a community and be part of it, but I was a reader, someone who liked to walk by my own in nature. I don’t know how much of it was nature or nurture. 

After finishing school Eleanor took a position with the Civil Service. Not the usual launch pad for what would be a successful acting career, however her time there gave left her in doubt that acting was for her. While working at the civil service, she became involved in the Project Arts Centre. She says: "It was exciting place to be."   After seeing a performance by an English touring company, Shared Experience, she remembers thinking: "That is what I want." After making up her mind to become an actor, Eleanor auditioned for acting school and secured a place. After being involved in a number of successful productions, she left Dublin in 1994 and began writing her own material.

Eleanor is not afraid to express strongly held opinions on acting. She says: "English actors are wonderful; it is as if because as a race of people, where they are quite reserved, that they keep it all for their work and we can’t hold a candle to them. I know I am going to get into trouble for saying that but I stand over it".

During that time she wrote an award-winning production called The Changing Room, which she said centred on archetypes of female experience. She toured with that production and others for a number of years, securing a Gulbenkian Foundation’s Gold Award for excellence and innovation in the arts in 1996.

It has always been a feature of Eleanor’s work to work with her idols. She says: "I went after all my heroes, so that is what I was doing for the last seven or eight years. Last year, she approached Clare Arts Officer Siobhan Mulcahy for her Ex Libris project and the county has been reaping the benefit of Eleanor’s energy since then. Eleanor was due to finish in March, but has remained on since then.

Back to Library News