Third act: 75-year-old strikes a high note on stage

SEIZE THE JOY: Lua Mcllraith believes laughter is the best medicine — “If you can have a good laugh every day it will stave off depression.” Picture: Moya Nolan

Songwriter, actress, and singer Lua McIlraith takes a riotous look at ageing in her one-woman show ‘Growing Old (Dis)Gracefully’, says Margaret Jennings.

Has your sex drive taken a bit of a dip as you age? Or what about your constant battle with the scales? And how are you managing with babysitting those ‘modern’ grandkids?

If any of those issues strike a chord with you, then you’re on the same page as Dublin -based Lua McIlraith, who has written a one-woman show called Growing Old (Dis)Gracefully, featuring “a riotous look in song” at the perils of ageing.

The material for her lyrics is taken from her own life and that of her friends and she compiled the show, she says, because “there was absolutely nothing out there relevant to older people, that wasn’t utterly negative”.

The 75-year-old amateur songwriter, singer, and actress blasts all that negativity away when she takes to the stage, striking a high note in more ways than one, with her original fun commentary on the ups and downs of what American octogenarian actress Jane Fonda calls the ‘Third Act of Life’.

Her song ‘The Libido Blues’, for instance, is self-explanatory, she says wryly. And when it comes to the number called the ‘Diet Song’, many would empathise no doubt, with her own battle with the bulge.

“As I say in my show, when I go to my doctor and say I’m comfortably cuddlesome, she says ‘no, you’re obese’,” laughs Lua, who admits to currently being “on one of those diets — yet again,” for the benefit of her arthritic knees.

Despite the knees and high blood pressure, she is otherwise a bundle of energy, as seen in the creativity and stamina it takes to not only write the music and lyrics for a show, but to stand up alone in front of an audience under the heat of the spotlight.

She is quick to point out she is not totally alone and pays tribute to her pianist Pauline Lennon and friend Aileen Byrne, stage manager.

“People are really enjoying it and I don’t have any trouble filling the venues. I like to stage it in small theatres of around 100, so it doesn’t lose its intimacy,” she tells Feelgood.

I am also offering it if people want to raise funds for something; as long as they cover whatever my costs are, then the rest of the door is theirs.

It’s a generous gesture, but she adds: “Well I have an absolutely fun life musically and dramatically and you have to give things back. I just have a ball — I enjoy it as much now as I did in my 30s.”

Lua, who as a child watched her schoolteacher parents in Athlone become heavily involved in the local community, was lucky enough to inherit their talents.

“My father was a brilliant musician, a very good writer, a poet, and was involved in the Athlone music society, so I inherited a lot of his talents. And then my mother was a brilliant organiser, so I was incredibly lucky in my life to have all those influences. I was blessed.”

The songwriting, music, and drama have been constant threads in her life. Even when she lived abroad over three decades ago as a young mother, due to her husband Declan’s work in the Philippines, Ethiopia, and South America, she managed to use those skills.

On her return home the mother of four formed her own cabaret group in 1989 and had “great fun” performing in golf clubs and as after-dinner entertainment.

Then at age 50, as a former nurse, she decided to train in reflexology and has had her own practice, which she continues to this day.

Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom — artist Francis Bacon

There seems to be no stopping the grandmother of three. “My friends say to me: ‘We don’t want to know what you’re doing because you’ll just exhaust us’. I’m very, very lucky that I have huge amounts of energy.”

Lua admits she is “the original couch potato” and “can’t stand exercise”, adding: “I will always find something else I’d prefer to do than go for a walk.”

It’s obvious her energy is instead focussed on her passions and her sense of fun, which of course includes taking a poke at her ageing self, but also at some of her peers who “don’t have any interest in things, who should be out there doing things and going places, but who just go ‘ah, I couldn’t be bothered.’”

She wholeheartedly embraces the maxim that laughter is the best medicine: “If you can have a good laugh every day it will stave off depression. So I try and find as many fun things as I can during the day; sometimes even looking at the jokes on Facebook, you just get a great laugh. So I’m always looking for something not to make fun of, but to turn into fun.

“Life is too short and you’re only here for such a short time; make the most of it!”

For show enquiries contact Lua at

Hold back time

Super Ager: You Can Look Younger, Have More Energy, a Better Memory, and Live a Long and Healthy Life, by Elise Maria Collins, €13.44 Statistics are proving we are all living longer but as we pursue the holy grail of also living healthier, we turn to examples of the so-called super agers among us, those in their 80s and 90s, who are performing physically and cognitively above their peers.

In this book yoga instructor, nutrition expert and healthy living blogger Elise Marie Collins has compiled a comprehensive look at what super agers are doing to live long and prosper.

The book, she says, offers everything you need to know on this score including the use of movement, diet, fasting, brain and memory health maintenance, as well as stressing the importance of relationships on optimal ageing.

Cycling stories

Dermot Higgins, the oldest person to cycle around the world, at age 56, and who featured in this page last year, is not resting on his laurels.

The retired Educate Together teacher recently launched the Skerries Cycling and Walking Tours Company, which he says will be full of surprises.

“I believe at last, I’ve landed myself the dream job. After 35 years of being cooped up in stuffy classrooms, I’m being unleashed onto the streets of Skerries and on the byroads of Fingal, this time as a tour guide,” he says.

“I’ve set my sights on sharing my passion for adventure, fun and learning with anyone who’s interested enough to book one of my tours. Unlike most cycling or walking tours, I’ll be adding a touch of drama to your tour by giving you the opportunity to meet in person, some of the characters (see picture), who have shaped the town.”

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