Up to now, I have only ever been to Jim of the Mills pub in Upperchurch, Co Tipperary, on a Thursday (the only night of the week the famed pub is open). As I walk down the pathway to the house on a quiet Wednesday evening – the garden heaving with fresh colours; perfectly matching the red trim on the house – I’m not even sure which door I should be entering through.

Luckily, the very person I am here to see meets me at the main entrance and leads me through to the back of the house – the living quarters for the Ryan family.

Áine Ryan is one of five daughters of the pub owners, Kay and Jim, and as a playwright, she divides her time between London and at home in Ireland. I have come tonight – on this “off night” – to speak with her about her life and work.

“My current remit – my own personal art that I’m trying to pursue – is writing about women in rural Ireland. Anything could strike inspiration, but that’s what I want to write about,” she tells me as we settle into the family’s sitting room with big mugs of tea.

Playwright Áine Ryan is pictured here at her family’s pub, Jim O‘ The Mills, in Tipperary. \ Claire Nash

Kitty in the Lane

This past May, Áine found success in London with a re-adaptation of one of her earliest plays, Kitty in the Lane, which she wrote in 2014. This one-person-show introduces Kitty, a young woman who has recently lost her license for drink-driving and feels her relationship with her father is a bit toxic.

Kitty is one of many rural Irish female characters Áine has created over the years. Having grown up in an isolated pocket of rural Ireland herself, she can – on some level – relate. Mostly, however, she just feels people in rural Ireland lead fascinating lives.

“Kitty is maybe someone who doesn’t see the outside world a lot, and I think in rural Ireland that still happens,” she explains.

“I’m fascinated by the things that go on within the walls [of people like Kitty] and how that landscape affects people. Living on your own in the countryside is very different than living on your own in the city.”

Other projects

When Áine first debuted Kitty in the Lane, it ran in The Source Arts Centre in nearby Thurles before running for three weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Then, Áine took it to San Francisco, where it ran for three weeks, before bringing it back to Ireland. After, she took time to work on other projects – notably, her plays Up the Hill Jackie and Paddy Goes to Petra.

“Paddy Goes to Petra started just before COVID-19, and we’ve since done that in the Galway Theatre Festival and in London, as well,” Áine says.

“The artistic director of the theatre where Paddy Goes to Petra was on, had wanted to read some of my other stuff, and I had always wanted to do Kitty in the Lane in London. I wanted to resurrect it and felt it was a really strong piece, so I got a new production team together and revived the show.”

After the success of its London run this past spring, Áine brought it to the Clonmel Junction Festival in July.

Playwright Áine Ryan is pictured here at her family’s pub, Jim O‘ The Mills, in Tipperary. \ Claire Nash

Pub upbringing

Áine’s parents are both talented storytellers and musicians, and while such influences had a part to play in Áine’s chosen career, she tells Irish Country Living she has also just always loved crafting a good story.

“It was one of those things I was always into, but obviously dad is very good at telling stories,” she smiles. “I would always love when he would tell a funny story; it would be a yarn – it wouldn’t have been something he’d come up with, it would have been something he’d heard.

“When we were younger, we used to do a lot of Scór competitions and we would always do novelty acts. Mam would nearly always write those. She’s very creative and good at coming up with ideas and stories.

“Then, in secondary school, I used to write shows for the talent show. I was good at composing stories, but my ideas were sometimes too risqué for the school. My first show was banned because I had a woman giving birth on stage!

“But all the audience loved it. After that I was like: ‘I actually love this.’ It gave me a good buzz. There’s such a power in theatre as well if it’s done really well – there’s nothing like it.”

Making a career

After secondary school, Áine earned a degree in theatre from Goldsmiths in the University of London. Her dissertation was entitled: ‘Daddys Girls, Ireland’s Daughters on the Stage’, as she felt this was an important theme in many Irish plays with female characters sidelined in respect of their male counterparts.

“That’s how Kitty in the Lane was born, because that’s about a woman living with her father and the damage they’ve almost done to each other – or she feels has been done, because it’s a one-person play, so you only really get her perspective,” she explains.

While Áine wants to keep the pipeline open for more Kitty in the Lane performances, she has also received a few project awards from the Arts Council of Ireland and has been developing new scripts. She praises the Arts Council, which supports and funds new artists; noting that writing and funding processes for young playwrights takes a lot of time and effort.

“You write because you love it, but you hope at the end of the day these characters get off the page and on to the stage,” she says. “It is theatre, after all, so it’s supposed to be performed.”

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