Thomas Myler recalls an interview he did in 2004 with Irish broadcasting legend and longtime friend of Ireland’s Own Donncha Ó Dúlaing, who passed away last month.
With a career lasting over half a century, Donncha Ó Dúlaing, who died recently at the age of 88, was one of the legends of Irish broadcasting.
Best known and remembered for his cultural and traditional music programmes, Donncha’s broadcasting career spanned more than half a century, during which he presented radio and television programmes with wide-ranging appeal including Highways and Byways, Fáilte Isteach, Three O One, Siamsa Cois Laoi, Donncha at Bantry House and Highways and Byways Revisited.
I had the pleasure of interviewing him for this magazine at a hotel near his Dublin home just before Christmas, 2004. It turned out to be fascinating chat. An inveterate chatterbox, he would go from one subject to another with ease, peppering his conversation with little anecdotes such as meeting many famous people in all walks of life.
And as if his broadcasting was not enough, he raised large sums for charity through fundraising walks throughout the length and breadth of Ireland as well as in Spain, France and the Holy Land, trekking along good naturedly and raising, in his own rough estimation, ‘three or four million’ for charitable organisations.
“I love the walking and the broadcasting,” he said. “I get a tremendous buzz from each, and they’re terrific.”
Donncha would have been the first to concede that his Saturday night RTÉ radio programme Fáilte Isteach rejuvenated his long career in broadcasting. It became compulsive listening for so many of us.
Featuring music, song and story from the four provinces, it turned out to be one of the station’s most popular shows. “I’ve been presenting it now for about ten years or so, and when I started it, I knew that whether for long or short, I’d found my radio home,” he recalled.
The programme introduced the characters of Kerry the cow, originally Daisy, Gandai the gander, the cat and the dog, all sitting at the fireside and far enough away from each other to feel safe as he invited listeners into what he called his Parlour of Dreams – and always remembering at the end of the programme to “pull the door after you, that’s imperative”.
“I think Fáilte Isteach and my Parlour of Dreams have brought much fun to the world of radio,” he said. “Indeed, what I call ‘the arcane world of Saturday night broadcasting’, I feel it has made an essentially cold medium somewhat warm, inviting and personal.
“We have listeners from all across the world and I have come to recognise handwriting, style and postmarks. We get lots of emails too and it’s wonderful, chatting to listeners at home and abroad, playing record after record. The listeners have become dear friends and sharers of all that is good and fulfilling in life.”
Donncha, one of a family-of-three, was always proud of his Cork roots. Born in Doneraile, near Mallow, he spent the first ten years of his life there before the family moved to Charleville where his father, a garda, had been transferred.
His father died when Donncha was thirteen and his mother went into deep mourning for a year, wearing black as was the custom and covering the radio with a cloth.
There was a woman next door, however, who used to let him listen to her radio and he became fascinated by the medium and its potential.
“Talking about my father’s death, I was with him to the end,” he reflected. “I can never forget the stillness of the room, the laboured breathing and the kindly nun who prayed for him. I touched his hand but there was no response.
“He was in his 51st year and I have never ceased to miss him. His passing turned a little boy, the eldest, into the breadwinner in the family and the hope for the future of our mother. I could say a lot more of this but after all these years, I find it inexpressibly sad and too personal.”