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Stephen McGann: ‘My lot walked, my lot starved’

The actor Stephen McGann has excavated his family history – from slum streets and the Irish famine to the deck of the Titanic. In the process, he says, he’s discovered who he really is

Stephen McGann is remembering how, when he researched his family tree for the first time, he discovered he had what he calls “slum blood”. “Ever since I was a teenager, I wanted to go back in time and find out where my ancestors came from in Ireland. My first question was: if they were poor and Irish, why did they come over here, to Liverpool? Why am I an immigrant?”

He remembers looking through a beautiful old parish record book at the age of 17 and reading that his great-great-aunt Teresa had died of “marasmus” as an 18-month-old infant in 1868, in a Liverpool slum. “I thought: oooh, what does marasmus mean? Then I realised it was a posh name for starvation.”

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