Playwright, screenwriter and director Peter Sheridan introduces his latest play Philo, which premieres in Dublin later this month at the Five Lamps Arts Festival.

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.

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.

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 her words.

Philo - writer and director Peter Sheridan

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 respected.

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.

Peter Sheridan's Philo is at the Sean O'Casey Theatre, Dublin, from October 21st - 30th 2021 - find out more here.