1. Growing up in County Mayo in the west of Ireland

I grew up in a family where languages were important. My granny spoke [Irish] Gaelic and my dad encouraged us to learn.

I spent my childhood pootling about in little dinghies by the beach. The Mayo landscape was and still is important to me.

I get a pain my chest if I haven’t seen the sea for a while. There’s a great word in [Scottish] Gaelic for that feeling, cianalas, which means a longing for a place.

2. Being surrounded by culture

The arts were very strong in our community. Irish traditional music was huge. There was theatre, too.

We lived in a small town but there were local productions. (Acclaimed Irish theatre company) Druid was down the road in Galway and the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre company) toured productions. My granny was very into opera. Her favourite was Maria Callas.

3. Learning to perform

In our house, it was assumed something was wrong with you if you couldn’t sing, dance, tell a story or play a tune.

It wasn’t showing off, it was sharing what you had. I used to do Irish traditional dancing. It was about being with your pals and having a day off school. It was about community, which was really important where I grew up.

4. Primary school

I started my education being taught by nuns. There was no option. The boys went to the Christian brothers, the girls went to the convent school.

I loved my primary school. I took every opportunity I could to get involved in shows, music, anything that was going on.

We had some bonkers nuns who were quite leftfield. Great women who would not be fazed by things. There were strict nuns but overall

I had a good experience.

5. Boarding school in Dublin

At the age of 11 I was sent to boarding school in Dublin. It wasn’t that my parents were particularly posh. They were of the generation that saved every penny and put it into their kids’ education.

I went to Loreto Abbey school. My daughter says: “Mum, you went to Hogwarts!”. That is what it looks like. I did more than survive it, because I was always busy with cultural activities and, crucially,

I formed an alliance with my music and French teacher, who was hugely influential on my life.

6. Working in theatre

After I left Loreto I worked at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin as an assistant stage manager, then as a stage manager at the Gate Theatre. As a stage manager, you’re in the perfect place to watch and learn from directors and actors.

Then I got some acting work at the Abbey Theatre and, eventually, a role in a touring production of (JM Synge’s classic play) The Playboy of the Western World. It’s a really good play for a young actor to learn from because it has a big cast. I’d just turned 21 and we were touring America and Hong Kong. I’m very grateful to the Abbey for allowing me to learn my craft in that first year.

7. Acting training in Glasgow

I then applied to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, as it then was (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland).

I spent my first week in Glasgow not understanding a word anybody said. I loved my time at college.

I used every minute of it.

In the summer holidays I worked at the Citizens Theatre. [Then artistic director] Giles Havergal gave me a part in his production of Playboy. Giles was just a darling and really knew his job. They don’t make them like that any more.

It was my first time on the Citz stage. To this day, I love that stage. It’s one of the nicest theatres I’ve ever played in.

8. Performing with Theatre Cryptic

In my second summer in Glasgow (director) Cathie Boyd of Theatre Cryptic (now called Cryptic) asked me to perform in Lovers, the company’s first show. It was at Theatre Workshop during the Edinburgh Fringe.

That was the first time I met Andy Arnold (theatre director and Kelly’s future husband). He came to see the show and we met afterwards.

After that, I did Parallel Lines (based on a soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses) for Cryptic at the Traverse Theatre during the 1996 Edinburgh Fringe. It was just me on a bed, accompanied by a musician. A lot of the script was driven by my love of Joyce.

9. Learning Scottish Gaelic and establishing Theatre Gu Leòr

My children are Scottish, so I wanted them to learn (Scottish)Gaelic.

We moved as a family up to Skye for a year to immerse ourselves in Gaelic. We only spoke Gaelic during that time.

While we were living on Skye I was doing theatre projects and thinking, “where are the Gaelic-speaking kids going to see their stories told in their language?”

The late (theatre director) David MacLennan invited me to put on a Gaelic play at (Glasgow’s lunchtime theatre) A Play, a Pie and a Pint.

One thing led to another, and, eventually, in 2014, we founded (Scotland’s Gaelic-language theatre company) Theatre Gu Leòr.

10. Becoming the new artistic director of Fíbín at An Taibhdhearc (the National Irish Language Theatre)

The theatre (where Kelly takes up the directorship next week) is bang, smack in the middle of Galway. I’m hoping we’ll really be able to open

it up to be a space for artists who work in Irish to really feel nurtured.

I also want it to be a space where we work internationally and continue to work with Scotland, including working with [Scottish] Gaelic speakers. Just now I’m talking with a Galician company (from the north-west of the Spanish state).