Radio star Duffy reveals tragedy that blighted his childhood
Published 10/10/2011 | 05:00
BROADCASTER Joe Duffy has revealed the dark sadness of his family's life and how his childhood tragedies spurred him on to become the national radio success he is today.
In a shocking and moving memoir published this week, Joe speaks frankly of a childhood blighted by an alcoholic father and the heartbreak of losing one brother in a car accident while watching another brother destroyed by drug addiction.
In his autobiography 'Just Joe', the man who has become a sort of agony aunt for the Irish people, reveals how the constant battles between his parents made him afraid and embarrassed but also engendered in him the desire to "get out".
Growing up in working-class Ballyfermot, one of five to parents Jimmy and Mabel, he describes his dad as "a small man, nimble on his feet . . . with a rugged round face, button nose and prominent teeth".
His dad was known as "the Lord Mayor of Glen Abbey", when he worked at the Glen Abbey factory in Tallaght.
"But drink was killing Jimmy inside," recounts Duffy. "Eating him up, driving him to acts of mental cruelty. In my view, alcohol ruled, ruined and ended my father's life."
Often rows would start when his father arrived home with his pay packet each week.
"The screaming would begin, the 'tug of war' between my parents: she looking for money, he refusing to hand over. In desperation, we would often rifle his pockets or hope that spare coins might have fallen from his discarded jacket and he was too drunk to notice."
Duffy revealed how, as a child, he intervened to protect his mother, lunging at his father and locking the door against him. His father then put his fist through the frosted-glass door, injuring his arm.
The RTE personality said: "I was totally unafraid. I had stood up to him at last."
Jimmy Duffy passed away in 1984 at the age of 58, Joe Duffy's mother Mabel is now 83.
The family had to deal with other tragedies, including the death of his brother Aidan, aged 25, in 1991 after his van careered under a truck on the Maynooth Road.
Duffy remembers how he heard about the "horrific accident" on the RTE Radio news, but had no idea his younger brother was involved.
"One hour later I returned to my desk to be met by a colleague, Noel Coughlan, and the RTE chaplain, Father Romuald Dodd.
When Noel told me that my brother, Aidan, had been killed, my first reaction was "How am I going to tell my mother? This will kill her."
When he did tell her the awful news, his mother collapsed on the floor, screaming, fighting the news. "The disbelief, the anger, the pain. It was the beginning of a nightmare," writes Joe.
His other brother Brendan would bring more heartbreak to the family.
Sniffing glue from the time he was a teenager, Duffy describes his life as "crippled, ruined and wrecked by a savage addiction".
Duffy said: "He has been in prison, robbed innocent people, borrowed and never repaid money from all the family, and God knows what else."
In a heart-breaking passage, the RTE personality recounts how the family were forced to ask for Brendan to be returned to jail on the night before his own father's funeral.
He recounts how as their father lay dying, Brendan was serving a prison sentence for assault and robbery but how he had personally written to Jim Mitchell, then Justice Minister, urging him to allow Brendan out for 24 hours for the funeral.
"That evening, as my father's remains arrived at the Church of the Assumption in Lower Ballyfermot, I noticed some friends of Brendan's in the gathering. Just as the priests, Fr Michael Cleary and Fr Tony Walsh, welcomed the remains, I noticed something being passed to Brendan in the church. I thought that my eyes had deceived me. But as the evening unfolded, I knew things were taking a turn for the worse.
"After the removal, mourners returned to our small house in Claddagh Green. A knock came at the door. I recognised the gurrier who had passed the package to Brendan in the church. Brendan got agitated.
"Most of the other mourners had left at this stage, embarrassed by the unfolding row. My mother and her sisters were now screaming downstairs and barricaded in the front room in fear of Brendan's rampage. I told them calmly that I was going for the police to take Brendan back to prison, which meant he would miss his father's funeral," Duffy says.
"I accompanied him back to Mountjoy, where I signed the papers to have him readmitted."
'Just Joe' by Joe Duffy is published by Transworld Ireland on Thursday.