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February 23, 2017 | Theatre,

An interview with an Emerson College student who grew up near Leenane in Ireland


Tommy Higgins is a senior Communication Studies major from Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania at Emerson College. Tommy’s family is originally from County Galway, Ireland in the Province of Connacht where he’s spent countless summers and holidays on the western mountainous coast.  Running to class one day, Tommy noticed The Beauty Queen of Leenane posters on campus.  Leenane is in the same county where his family lives and is about an hour away from their province. Because of the cultural connection and wanting to see traces of Ireland on stage, we interviewed a real life resident hailing from the all-important setting in The Beauty Queen of Leenane to see how close the play’s portrayal matches the real thing.

What do you like about Ireland?
Tommy: What I like about Ireland are the people. I like that it’s small. I like the culture because it’s familiar to me.

It’s familiar to you?
Tommy: Yeah, it’s familiar to me. I know it well.

Where in Ireland is your family from?
Tommy: They’re from County Galway. It’s in the West of Ireland, part of the Province of Connacht by the ocean.

What aspects of Ireland do you miss?
Tommy: I guess just the people, and the community— having all of my relations in one place.

What are obvious differences between Ireland and Boston?
Tommy: Not that Boston is bad… I think in Ireland people are more welcoming. Where I’m from (not Galway City), there’s a lot of countryside, a lot of winding roads. You spend more time driving around, looking at green grass, farms and you eat food from your local butcher and local farmer. It’s that sort of thing. It’s a big difference. In Boston (or US) I’m more likely to eat out.

 Are people nicer in Boston or Ireland?
Tommy: Boston is not bad. People have said that they’re mean, but people in Ireland are definitely nicer.

In what ways are people nicer? Is it manners?
Tommy: It’s more than manners. It’s being welcoming—having people in your home is a big thing in Ireland. I think that’s a big difference. People are also more modest in Ireland. But there’s more creativity in the US, especially in school.

 Is the food better in Boston or Ireland?
Tommy: My granny (her name is Peggy) is the best cook I know, but the food in Boston might be better—Not better than her food, but overall the food in Boston is better. My granny makes the best mashed potatoes, better than anything you can get in America. You don’t need to put any garlic or anything in it… just fresh with butter…made with love.

Why did your grandparents move to the US?
Tommy: They moved to Philadelphia mainly for opportunity. The Irish economy was very weak, and everyone immigrated to England, Australia, or somewhere in America.

Why did you move to Boston?
Tommy: I moved to Boston mainly because I wanted to pursue a creative career at Emerson, and I had some Irish links here. Many people from Galway live in Boston. I’ve had some friends and family friends who have welcomed me here.

Is there a large Irish community in Boston?
Tommy: Yes, next to New York it has the second largest Irish community

Can you describe Boston Irish community in 3 words?
Tommy: Energetic, traditional and proud.

Can you describe your favorite experience of being in Ireland?
Tommy: Running around a field with my little brothers and getting into this place where there are wild horses. My little brother needed to escape this little pen that was secured by a wire fence. And mainly just playing sports—playing Gaelic football which is the national sport of Ireland. It’s like the NFL to Ireland.

Coming in on a Sunday afternoon into my granny’s kitchen and having hot food there waiting for me on a rainy day. The food…the chocolate it’s really good. But you can get that here. And the toast——

What makes it different?
Tommy: Well the chocolate is pretty jacked off of Britain. The toast is really good because the butter and bread are really fresh.

Is there anything from the production that reminded you of back home?
Certainly, the sad truth about leaving home, your family, and loved ones. There’s a sad anxiety around work especially in the rural parts of Ireland.

Any cultural references specifically standout to you?
Yes, this was brought up a few times during the play, and I want to make it clear that Kimberly cookies are amazing! THE BEST COOKIES EVER.

How did you see your culture reflected on stage?
There were some hilariously Irish moments like the awkward conversation around sex life with your mother. That was true to the “crazy Irish way” of avoiding that topic for as long as possible until it boils over.

Favorite moment of the production
My favorite part was the dynamic between the old mother and the nosy neighbor (Ray Dooley) whose name she couldn’t get right.


This interview was conducted by Alexandria Ellison, Emma Weeks, and Todd McNeel

 All photos by ArtsEmerson Marketing and Communications Fellow, Todd McNeel 


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2 responses to “An interview with an Emerson College student who grew up near Leenane in Ireland”

  1. Peggy says:

    Tommy, Very nice interview, so happy to see it. Makes me miss home more and more. The mashed potato bit is questionable. Love you, Peggy

  2. Tess says:

    Lovely interview Tommy. Love from Tipperary. X

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