Thursday 30 March 2017

Writer speaks of family's joy growing up in rural Ireland

Donleavy 'knew for years' two of his children had different fathers

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

JP Donleavy -- back in the spotlight after the revelation that his two children by his second wife were fathered by other men -- last night spoke of his joy at being able to offer his family a "very untroubled childhood" in Westmeath.

He has known for years that his two children by his second wife, actress Mary Wilson Price, were fathered by other men.

Even more fascinating is that the two real dads are brothers from the most prominent brewing dynasty in the country -- the Guinness family.

Wilson Price fell pregnant with Rebecca (32) after an affair with Kieran Guinness. She later fell in love with Finn Guinness -- Kieran's brother -- while still married to Donleavy and went on to have his child, Rory (30).

Remarkably, all of the parties have remained friends -- and Donleavy does not have a bad word to say about his ex-wife, who he divorced in 1988.

"Rebecca and Rory, they were very happy. I watched (them) play and run around this house," he said speaking from the drawing room of his Levington Park mansion.

"One time Rebecca came here after being away in New York or London and she walked with me to the lake. She just stopped and said: 'Oh my God, this is paradise'. I'm very happy they had such happy childhoods.

"Mullingar is fine. People don't look into its advantages -- the rivers, the lakes -- it's one of the miracle places in the world to live. They (locals) tend not to notice this themselves."

The old house -- surrounded by around 170 acres of land where he keeps his beef herd -- was where he set up home with Wilson Price.

"The hallways are so long, if you were walking along, you could get buried under pillows, it was like an obstacle course when they were growing up."

The house is not showy or painted -- and looks to be in need of renovation. But Donleavy explains it was a "recreational house" in its heyday and still has an Olympic-sized swimming pool indoors.

"It's 11ft deep at one end and has a diving board."

Is he troubled by all of the renewed attention on him now he is leading a quiet life with his son, Philip, in his countryside home? "No, because you take it as authors do, you absorb it."

Isolating

Newspapers have referred to him as a recluse, but Donleavy is far from it. He enjoys talking to his neighbours, taking long walks by Lough Owel and keeps in contact with his family. But with 17 books under his belt in 27 languages -- "I think somebody counted them" -- he admitted his work is isolating at times. However, he enjoys keeping fit and still boxes, an interest he picked up while growing up in New York, where his Irish parents reared him after they emigrated.

A young James Joyce visited Levington and recalled the precise details of what his drawing room looked like and the view from one of its windows in his writings.

He also remembers Brendan Behan's "higher maintenance" side that many would not associate with the poet.

"He could lead a rough life but he could lead a very high life as well. He didn't like to get his feet wet so he took all my shoes and wore a different pair every couple of steps he took until he got to the pub -- so his feet were dry. I came home and asked him where all my shoes were."

Donleavy spent his college years hanging out with "intellectual" types in Dublin -- in pubs such as McDaid's, where many of his friends were ex-IRA prisoners.

Irish Independent

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