Why Roma’s heart will always belong in Derry

Roma as Mary the Mother of God in The Bible.
Roma as Mary the Mother of God in The Bible.

Although she has lived in America for almost a quarter of a century, Roma Downey has retained the soft lilt of a Derry accent.

While her lifestyle now may be a million miles away from her upbringing in Derry, she also retains a deep love and passion for the city of her birth. “You can take the girl out of Derry,” she laughs, “But you can’t take the Derry out of the girl.”

Roma is speaking to me from the offices of her production company LightWorkers Media in California. She talks, modestly it has to be said, about the international success of her recent TV series ‘The Bible’ and the forthcoming cinema release of an edited version of same which will be called ‘Son of God’.

And while the series has garnered her, and producer husband Mark Burnett, record viewing figures in the US, critical acclaim and two Emmy nominations - Roma takes nothing for granted, and indeed some of the success has been bittersweet.

“It has been a hugely humbling experience,” she said, “and very gratifying.

But there have been times, of course, I have wished my parents had still been alive to witness such career milestones.

“I know they would have loved this project - as they had such a strong faith. Daddy was a daily communicant at St. Eugene’s Cathedral, and religion played a strong role within our family.”

Roma’s mother Maureen (nee Reilly) died when Roma was just ten years old.

Her father, Paddy, died when she was just 20 - and Roma freely admits she has tried to honour both her parents in her work.

In addition Roma named her daughter Reilly after her mother’s maiden name. “I was named after my grandmothers,” Roma revealed, “Rose and Mary, so it was a tradition I enjoyed continuing with Reilly.”

Family values are clearly at the core of everything the 53 year old does.

Reilly is preparing to graduate from High School and plans to continue her education at College, and Roma has two step sons Cameron and James who she describes as a “real gift”.

Roma insists on taking a very hands on approach to raising her family - despite the demands on her time as a busy actress and producer. “It can be tricky, trying to balance everything.” she said. “But it is definitely a little easier now they are older and they are driving on their own. I don’t have to be the queen of the carpool any more!” she laughs.

But filming The Bible, which required five months on set in Morocco required some impressive organisation. “It was definitely complicated,” Roma said, with a laugh.

“We were in Morocco for five months. We had dust in places we didn’t know we had. And the children were in school so we had to leave them behind.

“Mark (Burnett) travelled back for work at times. And Reilly was able to come out at Easter and after school broke up. On the weekend of Reilly’s Confirmation I had fly back to California for four days - but we made it work!” Roma said.

Despite her hectic schedule Roma has maintained close contact with her beloved Derry.

Although not one to revel in the limelight, she has worked with local organisations and charities behind the scenes. She assisted funding the world record breaking ‘Annie’ singalong earlier this year.

And this summer she came back to Derry for a visit.

“What a joy it was to see the city looking so beautiful and so vibrant and full of energy,” she said.

“The City of Culture has given so much to Derry and even though I no longer live there I will always consider Derry home.”