Kirwan at the 2009 BAFTAs
24 October 1971
Dervla Kirwan (born 24 October 1971) is an Irish television, stage, and film actress who specializes in drama roles. She gained attention for her roles in Ballykissangel, Goodnight Sweetheart, and the Doctor Who Christmas special episode The Next Doctor.
Kirwan was born in Churchtown, Dublin, Ireland. Her father, Peter Kirwan, was an insurance broker, and her mother, Maureen O'Driscoll, was a language teacher. She is the youngest of three daughters. She attended Loreto Beaufort in Rathfarnham, Dublin, a Catholic school for girls, until the age of 16, when she was asked to leave as her career as an actress started to progress. Kirwan completed secondary school at the now-defunct non-denominational school Sandymount High School in Dublin.
Her breakthrough television role was appearing in the 1991 BBC Scotland production of A Time To Dance, adapted by Melvyn Bragg from his own novel, playing Bernadette Kennedy.
For 23 episodes, from 1996–1998, she appeared in Ballykissangel in the role of Assumpta Fitzgerald, the landlady of the village's only pub, Fitzgerald's. She reprised this role for a Comic Relief special of The Vicar of Dibley, and for a Father Ted special.
In 1999, she appeared in another BBC production, a made for TV Christmas film called The Greatest Store in the World. She played the single mother of two girls who are made homeless a few days before Christmas. Kirwan co-starred with Brian Blessed and Peter Capaldi. In 2001, she starred as Emma Rose in a BBC series Hearts and Bones alongside Sarah Parish, Amanda Holden, Hugo Speer and Damian Lewis. The show ran for two seasons. She also starred in the Sky TV series The Bombmaker as a former IRA bomb maker.
She appeared in the BBC 1 crime drama series 55 Degrees North with Don Gilet, which aired in 2004. She returned for a second season in 2005. The series was shown in the US under the title The Night Detective.
In 2007, she appeared in the BBC drama True Dare Kiss.
Kirwan also appeared in the four-part BBC drama The Silence in 2010. She played the role of Maggie, the warm-hearted aunt of a young deaf girl who witnessed a murder. The Silence aired in July 2010.
In 2018 Kirwan guest starred in one episode of Sky’s Strike Back: Retribution. She played Rachel Sheridan who helped design Guantanamo and may have built the black site where a Jihadi leader was being held. In the same year, she also appeared in the ITV drama Strangers (originally titled White Dragon) where she played the deceased wife of the titular character Jonah Mulray, played by John Simm.
In 2019, she appeared as a guest star in long-running BBC series Silent Witness playing the role of pathologist Amanda Long. In 2020, she appeared on Netflix miniseries The Stranger as Corinne Price.
At the age of sixteen Kirwan moved to London when she was cast in a play at the Bush Theatre. She won acclaim in 1988 for her performance as the factory girl Linda in A Handful of Stars, the Bush Theatre premiere of the first play in Billy Roche's Wexford Trilogy. In 1992, again at the Bush, she starred in a revival of the complete trilogy.
In 1991, she appeared in the play Water Music at the Cockpit Theatre, written by award-winning playwright Lyndon Morgans (singer-songwriter with the Welsh folk noir band Songdog). In 1992, she also starred in Hush by April De Angelis at the Royal Court Theatre, while January 1994 found her playing in Peter Hall's seasonal production of Georges Feydeau's farce An Absolute Turkey at the Globe Theatre.
In 2001, she appeared in a stage production of Dangerous Corner by JB Priestley in Leeds alongside Rupert Penry-Jones, to whom she is now married. Kirwan again appeared on stage with Penry-Jones in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Bristol Old Vic directed by Samuel West in 2003.
From April to May 2012, Kirwan appeared on stage at the Chichester Festival Theatre in a Jeremy Herrin production of Uncle Vanya. Kirwan played Sonya alongside an exceptional cast which included Roger Allam (as Vanya), Timothy West and Lara Pulver. The play received warm reviews and response to Kirwan's performance was generally positive.
In April 2013, Kirwan was cast as Valerie in Josie Rourke's revival of The Weir by Conor McPherson at the Donmar Warehouse. Kirwan appeared alongside Brian Cox, Ardal O'Hanlon, Risteard Cooper and Peter McDonald. Critics lauded the play and gave it four- and five-star ratings. The Weir later transferred to the West End, playing at Wyndham's Theatre from January 2014 to April 2014.
In late 2014, Kirwan made her second stint at the Chichester Festival Theatre as Frankie in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, a play by Terrence McNally about the relationship between waitress, Frankie and short-order cook, Johnny played by Neil Stuke. It was warmly received by critics who gave mostly four-star reviews. It ran from November 2014 to December 2014 at the Minerva theatre.
In 2007, Kirwan began filming the fantasy film Luna by Dave McKean, starring alongside Ben Daniels, Stephanie Leonidas and Michael Maloney. However, due to budget setbacks, filming did not resume until 2011 and was finally completed in 2013. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. The film was positively received by critics and Kirwan's performance was highly praised. Luna was awarded the Best British Film at the 2014 Raindance Film Festival.
She also starred in an independent thriller, Entity as Ruth Peacock. The film premiered in 2013 at selected cinemas and DVD and won Best Horror film at the London Independent Film Festival 2013.
In 2016, she starred as the violent and cruel crime boss Ed in Branko Tomovic's directorial debut Red.
She provided the voiceovers for the "This is not just food" television advertising campaign for UK retailer Marks & Spencer and also a string of three public information films about good food hygiene for the Food Standards Agency.
Awards & nominations
Kirwan won the National TV Award for Best Actress in 1996 and the Irish Post Award for Best Irish Entertainer in 1997 for her performance in Ballykissangel as Assumpta Fitzgerald.
She won the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Film at the 2010 Irish Film and Television Awards (IFTAs) for her role as Maura in Ondine.
For her role as Maggie in The Silence, Kirwan won the Dagger for Best Supporting Actress at the 2010 Crime Thriller Awards.
She received a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 2016 Maverick Movie Awards and won the Best Actress Award at the 2017 Flagship City International Film Festival for her performance as Ed in the film Red.
Kirwan has been married to actor Rupert Penry-Jones since 2007, after a four-year engagement. They are parents to two children, Florence and Peter. They met in 2001 while working on stage together in a West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, production of JB Priestley's Dangerous Corner, when he played Robert Caplan to her Olwen Peel. Kirwan again appeared on stage with Penry-Jones in Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 2003. They also both appeared in the television show Casanova in 2005, although they did not share any scenes.
Kirwan has been the subject of an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (air date: 2 August 2010) in which she found out more about her Irish and Jewish descent. Her great-granduncle was the Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins during the Irish War of Independence. She is a great-granddaughter of Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll, who was Collins' sister. Her maternal grandfather, Finian O'Driscoll, was Collins' nephew.
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