I will never forget the first time I met Philo. It was February 1982 in the offices of the North Centre
City Community Action Project (NCCAP) in Summerhill. A vibrant but small community organisation,
we had just been awarded a grant from the Department of Labour to employ twelve people on a
pilot drama scheme.
Philo came into the interview room with her daughter in tow. “I’m hoping you can give my daughter
here a place on this drama course cos she has my heart broke hanging around the house all day with
nothing to do except annoy me. Isn’t that right, love?” Philo said.
Her daughter sat in stony silence and Philo carried on to tell us about her five other children and
how difficult it was to keep an eye on all of them at the same time. Especially as she had to be in the
Convent of the Little Flower where she worked as a cook and a bingo caller. It was clear to me in
under five minutes that the woman sitting in front of me was a powerhouse and a matriarch who
would do anything to better the lot of her children. The other thing I realised was that she was a
natural born storyteller. I was mesmerised by her. By her honesty and her passion and the flow of
I offered Philo a place on the course. We had been given prior permission to take on two
participants who were over the age limit of twenty-five. It proved to be a fateful decision on every
level. Philo turned out to be a terrific actress. A great ensemble member of the troupe. And, in time,
she became a loyal and trusted friend. Over the years, I conducted one on one interviews with her
and these provided the basis for a book, Big Fat Love, which was published in 2004.
In many ways, Big Fat Love became my homage to the North Wall and the Dublin docks where I had
grown up. Like Philo, I had been born in the East Wall but moved across the bridge to Seville Place
when I was five. Philo moved to the Sheriff Street flats but maintained her East Wall links throughout
her life. Nobody better represented the spirit of the parish of Saint Laurence O’Toole than Philo. She
defended the area and the people against all detractors and, in return, she was genuinely loved and
It was a labour of love to write the book, but I’d always wanted to put Philo on the stage. I hope I
have done justice to her with this effort. Without doubt, the residents of Sheriff Street, East Wall
and environs will let me know soon enough. I await their verdict with hope and some trepidation.