Sunday 28 May 2017

Two decades on, a familiar blend of dignity and defiance

Murphy's appearance on the 'Late Late' highlighted a generational ­divide on reverence to the Church

Measured: Annie Murphy on the Late Late Show in 1993
Measured: Annie Murphy on the Late Late Show in 1993

Catherine O'Mahony

'She's a disgrace," my mother ­pronounced softly and shockingly, even as she conceded evenhandedly that ­Annie Murphy truly was a clever and very handsome woman. But what was she ever thinking, spending time like that with a priest, and she all dressed up? It was always going to end in tears.

The year was 1993. The sofa was gold velour and the coffee table was mahogany. On the telly: Gay Byrne's offensive against Annie Murphy, the divorcee hell bent on ruining bishop Eamonn Casey with her talk of sex and illegitimate offspring.

Gaybo is pressing his advantage.

All across Ireland, thousands of chins nod in approval. That Yank in her lipstick, people mutter. And Eamonn Casey practically a saint! What right had she, truly, to drag it all up again. Wasn't her son a grand big lad already? What more help did he need?

On the couches too, a younger and less deferential generation bristles. Who cares if he's a priest, we countered. He should recognise his son. He was older than her, we said. He made his choice. Voices are raised. Our "sentimentality" is given short shrift. We don't understand, we are told. This is about a bishop.

Not to us. This is about three people, two of whom are suffering because of a giant lie.

And so fast forward 24 years and here she is again, an oddly familiar blend of dignity and defiance: Annie Murphy.

Now a 68-year old living in a trailer home near LA, she spoke only reluctantly last week about the death of Eamonn Casey and who could blame her?

Today, she is speaking to an Ireland that has largely changed utterly in terms of attitudes to clergy and sexual morality. But there's every chance she does not fully appreciate that. She had, after all, to check with the interviewer that "birth control" was now available in Ireland.

Annie Murphy had been made all too aware of how negatively her disclosures about Eamonn Casey were received in her day. As tetchy as her Late Late Show appearance was, a subsequent US chat show interview with Phil Donahue saw her come under even fiercer attack.

And yet even now, "the Yank" is still tempted to pitch in.

"Keep me out of it," she said initially last week. "It's just a blemish and many people would consider it terrible if I said anything. I do think they would. I think I should stay out of it. I really do."

Pressed however, she talked fondly about her son Peter, now a sales manager in Boston with whom she talks "all the time".

Peter Murphy and Eamonn Casey eventually built up a satisfying father-son relationship, according to Murphy. "That was a hole in his life and it brought it forward and I think it made Peter a more well-rounded person."

The aftermath of her sudden rise to fame took its personal toll on Murphy's family. Murphy's relationship with her partner Arthur Pennell ended in 1994. While Peter studied political science at the University of Connecticut between 1992 and 1994, he didn't complete his degree. A freak accident a few years ago took the sight in one of his eyes.

Peter's reaction to his father's death was given in the form of a family statement that came from him, Eamonn Casey's brother and sister and the broader family.

"Notwithstanding the demands on his time," the statement said, "Bishop Eamonn was a great source of love and support, making himself available to celebrate and to empathise with us."

Murphy had been determined to facilitate at least some kind of loving relationship between her son and his father - and she did it.

She said last week of her feelings back in the 1970s: "When I left him [Casey], it was many years ago and I was about 25. And I told him 'If you don't acknowledge him I will fight. That's the only reason I will go at you. I won't stop. I knew what I would do."

But that was a lifetime ago. The money Murphy made from her book about Casey is long spent. In recent years she has been living quietly and modestly with her partner, artist Thaddeus Heinchon, in a town east of Los Angeles in California. She has suffered poor health, including a possible mild stroke. Her partner has also been unwell.

In an extensive interview published in 2012, Murphy said she regretted her decision to expose her child's father, largely because of the devastating impact her action had on the bishop's career. "I took justice into my own hands and I regret that because two wrongs don't make a right."

She also talked about her surprisingly measured response to her Late Late Show interview with Gay Byrne, who acerbically remarked to her: "If Peter is half the man his father is, he'll be doing well."

Her response was to say: 'Well, Mr Byrne, I'm not half bad myself'. And then she went backstage. She wanted the last word and she got it.

After the show, according to Murphy, Byrne apologised for being hard on her but she said she wasn't angry about it.

"I told him I had nothing more to say to him - there was no problem, we had both won."

It's hard not to admire her resilience. We must hope for her sake that her triumph in reconciling Peter with his father was victory enough.

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