When did you first discover you had a family link to the Sheehy Skeffington’s? How did it come about?
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington is my great-grandmother’s cousin, I first discovered this from my auntie, Patricia. She was doing some research into the family history and was drawn to Hanna because of her feminist spirit. Patricia and I are quite similar, in the sense that we share egalitarian values, so she told me about Hanna because she knew that I would also find her very interesting.
Was that partly what drew you to ‘To Have to Shoot Irishmen’? Did the creative team know from the start that you were a relation of the characters?
I couldn’t believe it when I first opened the first page of the script for, ‘To Have To Shoot Irishmen’ and I saw Hanna and Francis’ name on the character list. After reading the script, it made a lot of sense to write a play about their story and I knew that I wanted to be involved in bringing it to other people.
When I had the interview for the job to design the play I did not mention my relation to the characters, mainly because I wanted to get the job based on my ideas. However, I did tell Lizzie, Gemma and Vidar after I was offered the job in our first meeting.
You recently met Hanna’s granddaughter Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, who is a feminist activist like her grandmother. What was it like to speak to her?
I met Micheline Sheehy Skeffington at an exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland, about Women’s Suffrage and Citizenship in Ireland. I spoke to her after the event about a case she won against the university she works for, who did not promote her because of her gender. She was very friendly and inspiring.
Do you feel Hanna’s feminist spirit has been passed down the generations to you?
My parents have called me ‘Hanna’ when I have become passionate about a feminist issue, so they would certainly say so. I have also been involved in environmental activist groups. I think I have a personality type found in my family that is driven to speak out against social injustices and one that can be slightly rebellious, at times.
This is your first professional theatre design. How has your knowledge of the real-life Frank and Hanna informed the design? Do you feel they’re in some way watching over you as you work?
Having knowledge of the real-life Francis and Hanna, has informed my costume designs. When working with characters in a script, I normally imagine what the characters would look like and what they would wear, but my familiarity with them. has meant that I am inspired by real life.
Before I had the interview for the design job, I debated whether I should mention my family connections to the characters. My decision not to, was reaffirmed by the fact that I could imagine that Hanna would have agreed with me, that I should get the job based on my talent and not who I am related to. I feel that their moral values have inspired some of my decisions in this process.