Solace for TV star Daithi O Se as he's with dad at end
'Benny Hill' theme music brings some laughs at a time of great sadness, Daithi O Se tells Barry Egan
EIGHT days ago Daithi O Se carried the coffin at the funeral of his late father Maidhc Dainin O Se, 71, at Carraig Church in west Kerry. Yesterday at home in Salthill in Galway the TV presenter was still carrying that heavy load of grief and sorrow.
"I am heartbroken beyond words... totally broken. You have to own up to that first, that grief," he told the Sunday Independent in his front room looking out on Galway Bay, adding that life has to go on.
"And it will go on. Someone said to my mother: 'Jesus, you'll never get over this.' That's the biggest load of bullshit I ever heard. How would my mother go on if she thought there is no light at the end of the tunnel. We are just going to substitute the heartbreak and anguish with memories."
"There is hurt and there is heartbreak inside all of us," he continues, "but as time goes by the good memories will eventually take over from the heartbreak."
Daithi gets up off the chair to a picture on the wall of the area where he grew up on the Dingle Peninsula. "That's where the old fella is buried," he says pointing at a part of the picture.
He shows me another picture of his father holding him as a small child – "I'm the little fat fella", he laughs, before adding with his voice, suddenly, choked-up with emotion: "That's the room he died in. I'll never see him again."
He and his wife, former New Jersey Rose Rita Talty, left Ballydavid last Thursday and drove to Galway. "It was sad leaving mam," Daithi says. "We went up to see the grave before we left."
"It was a very quiet car ride," Rita says. Daithi says he was thinking about his father the whole way to Salthill. Daithi remembers having a drink with his father in An Bothar pub in Dingle when he was 17.
"The woman who was in charge of the electoral register came in and saw me drinking and said in front of the barman: 'Oh, Jesus, you're 18. You can vote.' 'Yeah, I am, aren't I dad?" I said nervously, holding my pint. And dad says: 'Yeah, he's 18.' So I voted when I was 17. I don't think I influenced the election," Daithi laughs.
Three months ago, the doctors found a cancerous shadow on Maidhc Dainin O Se's lung. Last Wednesday week he went to see how bad it was at the hospital in Tralee. He got good news: the shadow on his lung was very small and containable, explains Daithi. "We were told we were going for four very light bouts of chemo and he wouldn't lose his hair."
Daithi and Rita picked up Maidhc and his wife Caitlin and went to McDonald's to celebrate the good news.
"I thought this is fucking great stuff: he'll knock about another 10 years out of this," Daithi says. Daithi and his dad "landed" in Flaherty's traditional Irish music bar in Dingle for a few pints on the way home at 6pm.
"My father had played in Flaherty's since 1973. He played with Fergus behind the counter, the fella who owns the place. They called them Foster & Allen as a joke because they were playing the same tunes for 40 years. The last thing they were talking about was getting Foster & Allen back together for Christmas!"
At about 7.30pm, Rita and Caitlin arrived to pick up Daithi and Maidhc. "My mother and father were married for 51 years but they were going out 53 years," Daithi says. "And so when she came into An Bothar she said to him, "53 years ago I dragged you out of a pub and I'm doing the same thing tonight'."
Caitlin cooked them all chicken at home and everyone was in bed by 9pm. The following morning, at about 8.15am, Maidhc got up and put on sausages for breakfast and then sat down in the chair and went to sleep in a weird slump. Caitlin came out and realised something was wrong. She shouted "Maidhc! Maidhc! Maidhc!"
By the third shout, Daithi jumped out of bed and ran to his father's side. "He was slouched in the chair and trying to draw his breath. He pulled maybe 10 or 15 breaths after that, very slow. My father was cold there," Daithi says touching my arm.
"Within about 40 seconds, I saw death coming over him. We put him down on the ground and I was doing CPR and mouth-to-mouth and trying to get him back but I could see it leaving him. My mother was holding his hand. I said: 'Mam, I think he's gone'. That was the hardest thing I ever had to say to my mother. She said: 'He can't be gone'. To hear your mother say that is heartbreaking," Daithi says, "but I knew it in my heart and soul that he was gone."
Rita called the ambulance. She ran to the top of the hill to flag it down. When they got to the house, they worked away on him for about half an hour in attempt "to get him back but no. I knew he was gone. I could feel it. There was a coldness on him".
He was overwhelmed suddenly by the surreality of it all. "I was thinking: 'My father's dead there in front of me. What happens next?' Something has to happen! There isn't a producer. There isn't somebody telling me in my ear , 'Ok do this now ... ' It is like doing a live show with no producer. So I was wondering do I call the undertaker or the priest first?"
Daithi called the priest. They all kneeled and said the rosary around the body when he arrived. Mid-way through the prayers, Daithi's brother Danny's phone went off – "and the ring tone was the Benny Hill theme song. We all burst out laughing. He wasn't dead half an hour and Benny Hill comes on!"
Your father would have found it funny. "Ah Jesus, I think it was my father who probably rang him! 'This is getting far too serious!' To lighten the mood!"
One of the best memories Daithi had last Friday week was, he says, standing over his father in the coffin by the window when his niece and nephew were trying to watch SpongeBob SquarePants. "And these little kids saying to me: 'Get out of the way!' It was brilliant." At his father's funeral last weekend, Daithi said he learned the secret of a successful marriage from his parents – one person who thinks he's the boss and the other who knows she is.
I ask Daithi and Rita is that the same in their marriage. "His mother tells me I am the boss!" laughs Rita. "She's the boss alright," smiles her husband. "I'm only the acting boss." The acting boss goes for a walk along the beach to try to clear his head a bit. "The way I look at it, my father got great news the night before he passed away. So therefore he was in great form and therefore he slept great for the first time in a long time. So my father died happy," Daithi O Se says as the water laps against the shore.
"He died in my arms. He didn't shout or roar or make any sound that he was in pain when he was dying. He just went. I find great solace that my father died in front of me and my mother and I was holding him."