The Real Life Relationships in Mrs Brown's Boys

by JoHarrington

When the script called for a large extended family, Brendan O'Carroll cast a real world one - his own! Yet the relationships aren't quite what they are in 'Mrs Brown's Boys'.

'Mrs Brown's Boys' is a sitcom set in Dublin. The indomitable (and hilarious) Agnes Brown is a great Irish matriarch, fussing around her brood of adult children. Their partners, grandchildren, neighbors and friends are also popping around for a visit too.

The easy-going atmosphere allows for bloopers to remain on show, and the fourth wall to frequently come down. If the cast seem comfortable with each other, there's a reason for that. They're mostly friends and relatives in real life too!

The Real Mrs Brown: Brendan O'Carroll Biography

Learn more about the real man behind the cream cardigan and elasticated tan tights, in this authorised biography of Brendan O'Carroll

Check out the full range of Mrs Brown's Boys DVDs on Amazon (UK).

Brendan O'Carroll is Agnes Brown

He came up with the idea, wrote the script and plays the lead matriarch. She's apparently semi-based on his own mother.

Image: Brendan O'CarrollAuthor, playwright, stand up comedian and milkman, Brendan O'Carroll was sitting with his agent and manager Rory Cowan.  They were at the RTE studios - the biggest television and radio network in Ireland - when it was mentioned that the company were looking for short plays.

"I've written some five minute comedy plays."  Brendan piped up.  He hadn't, but he recognized an opportunity when he saw one.  All attention on him, he made stuff up, speaking as quickly as he was thinking it.  "They're about a Mammy in Dublin with a big family."  He was thinking of his own mother, who'd raised eleven kids.  "She speaks her mind, but gets it wrong a lot."

Rory looked at him.  He knew nothing about this.  But he wouldn't.  Brendan was making it up as he went along.

"One of the sons is based on Rory."  They all knew what he meant.  Flamboyantly camp. "But Mammy hasn't even worked out that he's gay.  Funny stuff."

Brendan got the gig.  He had to rush home and quickly write ten five-minute radio plays.  They were so successful that they turned into stage performances, with the venues getting bigger and bigger, then spilling out of Ireland to tour the world.

At one stage show in Britain, a scout for the BBC was watching from the audience.  Stephen McCrum approached Brendan afterwards to see if he'd be up for turning the play into a television sitcom. Brendan thought it was some kind of practical joke.

But it wasn't and now the award-winning Mrs Brown's Boys is into its third season.  It's slowly taking over the world. 

Yet twenty years through various incarnations, Brendan hasn't built his Agnes Brown brand alone.  He took his whole family with him!  Here's a look at who shares the screen with him; and how they're related in real life.

Mrs Brown and Cathy Brown

- Husband and wife
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown
Jennifer Gibney as Cathy Brown
Jennifer Gibney as Cathy Brown

In the show, Cathy is the middle-aged, long-suffering daughter of Mrs Brown. She really wants to meet a nice man and get married, but Agnes thwarts every attempt.

The only girl amongst a brood of boys, Cathy is treated with utter disdain by her mother.  But she isn't cowed. She gives as good as she gets.

As well she might.  In real life, actress Jennifer Gibney is the wife of Brendan O'Carroll!

Winnie McGoogan and Sharon McGoogan

- Brendan O'Carroll's sister and sister-in-law
Eilish O'Carroll as Winnie McGoogan
Eilish O'Carroll as Winnie McGoogan
Fiona Gibney is Sharon McGoogan
Fiona Gibney is Sharon McGoogan

Winnie McGoogan is Agnes's frequent clueless next door neighbor and best friend.  Naive to the point of idiocy, she's usually Agnes's partner in crime during all of their well-intentioned scrapes. 

Their respective daughters are much more with the plot.  Sharon McGoogan is generally seen serving behind the bar at the Foley, or having a good, old chinwag with her best friend, Cathy Brown.

In reality, this is sister power!  Winnie is played by Brendan's big sister Eilish O'Carroll.  Sharon is played by Jennifer's little sister, Fiona Gibney.

Maria Brown and Trevor Brown

- Brendan O'Carroll's daughter and son-in-law
Fiona O'Carroll is Maria Brown
Fiona O'Carroll is Maria Brown
Martin Delany is Trevor Brown
Martin Delany is Trevor Brown

In the show, Maria is Agnes's daughter-in-law.  She's married to Dermot and has just given birth to triplets.  Meanwhile Agnes's favorite son is the priest, Trevor Brown. 

He's not in it much, always away on missionary work.  That's largely because the 'actor' who plays him is actually more comfortable behind the camera.  Martin Delany is a director.

In real life, he's married to Fiona O'Carroll, who is Brendan's daughter.  She's from his first marriage, so Jennifer isn't her mother. Incidentally, Fiona O'Carroll is pregnant in real life (seven months, in June 2014). The way this is playing out, that possibly means the show will be getting another cast member soon!

Buster Brady and Betty Brown

- Brendan O'Carroll's son and daughter-in-law
Danny O'Carroll is Buster Brady
Danny O'Carroll is Buster Brady
Amanda Woods is Betty Brown
Amanda Woods is Betty Brown

If there is petty crime occurring anywhere in the Dublin area, then there's a fair chance that Buster Brady is involved somewhere.  He's Dermot's best friend and the person most likely to lead him astray.

Much more respectable and down-to-earth is Betty, who is married to Mrs Brown's eldest son, Mark. 

Except in real life, Buster and Betty are married to each other.  Danny O'Carroll, who pays Buster, is Brendan's son.  His wife is Amanda Woods, who plays Betty.

Bono Brown and Dermot Brown

Brendan O'Carroll's grandson, and Danny's best friend
Jamie O'Carroll is Bono Brown
Jamie O'Carroll is Bono Brown
Paddy Houlihan is Dermot Brown
Paddy Houlihan is Dermot Brown

Some of the most heart-warming scenes in Mrs Brown's Boys concern the interaction between Bono and his Granny Agnes.  Did I say granny?   I meant Grandad! 

Bono is played by Jamie O'Carroll, the son of Danny (Buster) and Amanda (Betty).  In the show, he's the son of Mark and Betty, so at least he has the same mother on and off screen!

Meanwhile Danny O'Carroll's best friend in real life is Paddy Houlihan.  Therefore he was a natural to be cast as Buster's best friend, and Agnes's son, Dermot.

Dermot O'Neill is Grandad Brown
Dermot O'Neill is Grandad Brown

Brendan's Friends: Grandad, Mark, Rory and Dino

Brendan O'Carroll didn't just bring his family on board, but his real life friends too.

He's known Dermot O'Neill, who plays Grandad Brown, for over twenty years.  They've acted together in previous shows too.   The pair are mates from way, way back.

In similar circumstances, Brendan met the young Gary Hollywood, who plays Dino Doyle.  As a child and teenage actor, Gary had achieved some fame in his native Scotland.  He acted in one play with Brendan, but the older man became his mentor.

When the opportunity came to act in Mrs Brown's Boys, Gary's agent advised against it.  He's neither camp nor gay (in reality, he's married to a woman and they have two children), so the agent thought it would damage his career. Moreover, it was thought that the sitcom would be a flop.

Gary voted with his old friend and mentor.  He took the part of Dino against all advice and now he's world famous. 

But funniest of all is what happened with Pat and Rory.

Rory Cowan and Gary Hollywood
Rory Cowan and Gary Hollywood
Pat 'Pepsi' Shields is Mark Brown
Pat 'Pepsi' Shields is Mark Brown

How Rory Came to Play Himself

Rory was originally Mark. But then the real Rory was press-ganged into playing a character based on himself.

Pat 'Pepsi' Shields is a singer and musician, who was originally asked to contribute to the Agnes Brown radio play.  He ended up acting in it.

We know him best as Mark Brown, the eldest of Mrs Brown's boys.  But he started off playing Rory. 

That must have been a little strange, as the real Rory was right there, as Brendan O'Carroll's agent and now road manager.  It meant that Pepsi had plenty of inspiration for mannerisms and the like, but also that he had to take some care.

As time went on, Pepsi moved over to playing Mark and a succession of actors took on the role of Rory.  The real Rory went on watching.

Then came the moment when one of the Rory actors left at short notice.  Brendan had just two days to do a casting call, find a Rory, rehearse and teach him the lines, then they would be live on stage.  It was impossible, so Brendan didn't try.

"You be Rory."  He told Rory Cowan.

His old friend was not convinced.  "I'm not an actor!"

"But you know how to be Rory.  You've been Rory all your life."

There really was no response to a statement like that.  Brendan got another friend into his cast and Rory Cowan went on playing 'himself', even when they moved into television.

Books about Agnes Brown by Brendan O'Carroll

Long before the television show 'Mrs Brown's Boys' was even a dream, the Agnes Brown plays were turned into novel form.

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Updated: 08/22/2014, JoHarrington
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