The Rewind

'I'd Be Taken To One Side And Interrogated By The Special Branch'

'I'd Be Taken To One Side And Interrogated By The Special Branch'

The treatment to which he was subjected while living in London during the 1980s heightened the republican sympathies which Colm Meaney already held.

At the height of The Troubles, the actor was working with theatre company 7:84.

"When I was touring with 7:84, we'd go into places I'd been in before, pubs and cafes and they'd want to know, 'Did you bring a bag in with you?' They'd be looking at you suspiciously," Meaney told Jarlath Regan's An Irishman Abroad podcast.

The guys in the company were aware of that and would come to my aid and my defence.

Every time I went back and forth, I'd be pulled out, either at the airport or the ferry. I'd be taken to one side and interrogated by the special branch. I took it as par, 'That's just the way things are nowadays'.

I was very political from when I was very young. I joined Sinn Féin when I was about 13 or 14 off my own bat.  I was already of republican sympathy; if anything, it just reinforced them.

Meaney said that when he returned home to Dublin, sometimes for work in The Abbey Theatre, he didn't always feel welcome.

"It was still very much a thing in the 70s that if you went away, you'd left - you were gone and that was it. There was no toing and froing; even to London, I'm not talking about going to America.

"It used to make me laugh. If you came home, you'd pop into the Flowing Tide to see the guys. Invariably, it was 'Oh, yeah, you're back. How long are you staying for? When are you going back?' It was almost like if you go, you've left the tribe and that's it, you're not part of us anymore."


After spending some time working between New York, London and Ireland, Meaney eventually moved to the US. That decision was expedited by the ascension to power of the Tory party during the 80s.

"I was going along with that really happily until basically Margaret Thatcher fucked the whole thing up," said Meaney.

"Funding for the arts started to get very scarce when she came to power. 7:84, we took a break and I went over to another company that had been formed out of 7:84 called Belts and Braces.

"It was only after I'd been in America for a while that I realised that in commercial theatre, television, film in London, it was very hard for an Irish actor to break out of Irish parts.

"Jim Norton, those kind of guys, it was always the Irish character that you got to play. It was usually a cliche Irishman, not a very interesting Irishman."

Picture credit: Markus Wissmann /

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