Childhood & Early Years
Dervla Kirwan was born on 24 October 1971 in Churchtown, a residential suburb on the Southside of Dublin, Ireland. Her father, Peter Kirwan, was an insurance broker while her mother, Maureen Collins nee O'Driscoll, was a language teacher. She taught English and Latin.
Dervla was born the youngest of her parents’ three children, having two elder sisters named Blanaid and Paula. Although they were not rich she had a happy childhood. Like the younger children of most middleclass families, she grew up wearing her sisters’ old clothing.
As a child, she longed to have blond hair, may be because blonds were considered beautiful. She never thought herself as one. But early in her life, she learned to accept the way she was.
Her aunts had a farm in the countryside. At the age of six, she went there for a visit and her aunt served a huge cow’s tongue for dinner. Always a sensitive child, she found it very repulsive and thought, "Sweet Jesus, must we eat this?" She later mentioned the incident in an interview.
She was a bright student. But unlike other girls of her time, she did not have much chance of reading magazines because they were considered frivolous by her mother, who preferred to read more serious books.
For her secondary education, she was enrolled at Loreto High School Beaufort, a Catholic girls’ school located in Rathfarnham, a Southside suburbs Dublin. There, she had to face very nasty verbal bullying, which prevented her from settling down.
One day between classes, the bullying became so intense that she could not bear it anymore and in a fit of rage punched the ringleader’s nose. The episode shocked her as much as it shocked the bullies and they never again tried to bully her.
At the age of fifteen, she started attending drama class, deciding to become an actress, an ambition reinforced by the bullying she received at school. While she was chided for such absurd ambition, she remained steadfast in her goal. Very soon, she stood out as a talented student and began to give auditions.
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At the age of fifteen, Dervla Kirwan landed her first role in BBC’s TV series ‘Trouble’. In the following year, she moved to London to take part in ‘A Handful of Stars’, the first part of Billy Roche's ‘Wexford Trilogy’, which was to be staged at the Bush Theatre.
Since it meant that she would have to live in London for some time, she was forced to leave her school. Although young and homesick, she did very well, receiving acclaim for her role as Linda, a factory girl, in ‘A Handful of Stars’.
The play ran at the Bush Theatre, London from 15 February to 19 March 1988, effectively launching her career. Thereafter, she returned to Dublin, to complete her schooling from the Sandymount High School, a non-religious school.
Also at the age of sixteen, for about a week, she worked as a waitress in a restaurant in Dublin. She had expected to overhear couples talking to each other or make romantic gestures. But she was highly disappointed, having to run about the entire day.
In 1990, she was offered a role in ‘The Lilac Bus’, a television movie, based on Maeve Binchy’s story. She did not have to look back thereafter, being offered one role after another.
In 1991, she appeared in BBC Scotland production, performing the role of Bernadette Kennedy in ‘A Time To Dance’, a play based on Melvyn Bragg’s work. It was broadcast from 12 January to 2 February 1992. Also in 1991, she debuted in her first feature film, ‘December Bride’.
1992 was a busy year for Kirwan. In the same year, she starred in ‘Hush’, a play by April De Angelis that ran from 10 August to 7 September at the Royal Court Theatre. Later from 23 September to 17 October , she performed in ‘Water Music’ at the Cockpit Theatre.
Also in 1992, when ‘Wexford Trilogy’ was revived, she was chosen to take part in ‘Poor Beast in Rain’. The play ran from 13 November to 22 December in the Bush Theatre, London. Simultaneously from 18 December, she also appeared in ‘Once A Catholic’ at Tricycle Theatre.
In 1993, it was decided that ‘Wexford Trilogy’ would be made into television series, retaining the original cast. Accordingly, she appeared in ‘A Handful of Stars’ and ‘Poor Beast in Rain’, which were broadcast on 31 July 1993 and 7 August 1993, respectively.
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Also from 1993, she began working in the popular television series, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, enacting the role of Phoebe Bamford. During this period, she acted briefly in BBC One production ‘Casualty’.
‘An Absolute Turkey’, performed at Globe Theatre throughout January 1994, was another important work of this period. Based on a farce by Georges Feydeau, the work was directed by Sir Peter Reginald Frederick Hall.
From 1996, she began to work in ‘Ballykissangel’. Set in Ireland, it was produced in-house by BBC Northern Ireland. Simultaneously, she also worked in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, and ‘Father Ted’. At the end of the same year, she quit ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’, handing over the role to Elizabeth Carling.
In 1998, after working for twenty-three series in the role of Assumpta Fitzgeral, she quit ‘Ballykissangel’. In the same year, she starred with Christopher Eccleston in ‘With or Without You’ as Rosie Boyd.
In 1999, she enacted the role of a single mother in ‘The Greatest Store in the World’, a television Christmas film produced by BBC. Co-starring with Brian Blessed and Peter Capaldi, she played mother to two girls made homeless few days prior to Christmas.
In 2000, she starred in ‘Hearts and Bones’, a BBC drama production, in which she played the part of Emma Rose. Lasting for two series, it was first aired on BBC One in 2000 and then in 2001. Also in 2001, she appeared in ‘The Bombmaker’ and ‘Dangerous Corner’.
In 2003, she returned to the stage to star in ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’ at the Bristol Old Vic. Her next work, ‘School for Seduction’, was a film directed by Sue Heel, which was released on 14 May 2004. Her crime drama series, ‘55 Degrees North’ was released on 6 July 2004.
In 2005, she returned to the television with the second series of ‘55 Degrees North’, renamed ‘The Night Detective’ for US release. In the same year, she enacted the role of Alice in ‘Aristrocats’, a play by dramatist Brian Friel staged at Lyttelton Theatre.
Continuing to work on stage, she performed in ‘Exile’ in 2006 and ‘Betrayal’ in 2007. Simultaneously, she also worked in television series, appearing in the BBC drama ‘True Dare Kiss’ in 2007, ‘The Next Door’ in 2008, ‘Moving On’ in 2009. Her third film, ‘Ondine’ was also released 2009.
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2010 started with ‘Material Girl’ being aired over BBC. In the same year, she appeared as Bundle in Agatha Christie's ‘Marple’, as Maggie in ‘The Silence’ and as herself in ’Who Do You Think You Are?’. They were followed by ‘Injustice’ in 2011 and ‘Blackout’ in 2012.
In April 2012, she returned to stage, appearing as Sonya in ‘Uncle Vanya’, earning positive reviews for her performance. Next in April 2013, with the revival of ‘The Weir’ by Josie Rourke, she appeared as Valerie.
In 2014, she had her prize winning fantasy film, ‘Luna’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and received great acclaim for her performance. Late in the same year, she returned to the stage, appearing as Frankie in ‘Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune’.
By 2015, along with acting, she started on a new line, becoming an associate producer of ‘Silent Hours’, in which she also appeared in the role of DI Jane Ambrose.
‘Red’, a dark thriller released in September 2016, is her latest major work. In it she appeared as Ed, a cruel and violent crime boss.