Sunday 1 February 2015

Mulcahy at 60: never say sorry

Barry Egan finds the hell-raising painter in mellow mood, consoled by the love of a good woman -- Vera Whelan, a stained-glass artist from Wexford -- and energised by a hatred of the banks that are driving people to suicide

SHOWMAN: Mick Mulcahy is a performance — Michael Mulcahy is the one that Vera
SHOWMAN: Mick Mulcahy is a performance — Michael Mulcahy is the one that Vera

I meet him barefoot on the road just outside Dungarvan. He looks as if he has just come down from another galaxy. You wouldn't expect anything less from Ireland's answer to Salvador Dali, Mick Mulcahy.

He is holding a flower, his fingernails and toenails are painted a chipped blue and red. Around his neck are a succession of colourful fabric-y scarfs that blow in the wind rolling in off the sea as he stands there at the appointed time to be picked up. There is a smile that never leaves his face for the next four hours.

He is wearing yellow wristbands and purple bracelets; his wild hair looks as if it has been brushed by the Devil himself. He gets into the back of the car, says to drive on a few miles till we get to a shed on the bend in the road at the end of the hill in Helvick. "Give out to nobody but yourself," Mick sings in the car as we head at speed towards Helvick. "And then there won't be any problem."

"I love making love to ban garda with their suspender belts," he suddenly announces -- apropos of absolutely nothing -- in that theatrical sing-along voice he likes to put on when he is acting the goat. "I loves lesbians with tan legs."

It is his birthday. He was born in Dungarvan 60 years ago today. "Give us a birthday kiss," he says to the beautiful woman with me who's driving the car. "But not while you're driving around the corner." She suddenly changes the gears badly and the car judders. We don't end up in the sea, but she says sorry for the bump nonetheless.

"Never say sorry!" Mick implores like Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. "This is an idea that the British empire has imposed upon on us! Sorry for unchanging your gear! Why would you say that? I am not your driving instructor giving you the test."

As much as Michael Mulcahy is putting on a performance -- being Mad Mick, Mick The Prick, the bug-eyed libertine and iconoclast who has walked naked through the streets of Galway and brought plastic ducks for a walk through Stephen's Green -- there is a very real depth of sadness, and joy, to him too. He loves with all his heart and but he also feels pain with all his heart.

"Truth is the only thing worth having in the world," he says. "Love and truth are the only realities in the world."

As we pass a part of the road, he turns quiet. "My younger brother hanged himself in there. He hanged himself in that f***ing place," he says. I suddenly notice that the yellow wrist band Mick is wearing is a suicide prevention wristband of 1Life, with the number of the counselling helpline on it. Mick says he is very conscious now that the numbers of poor souls committing suicide in Ireland is on the rise because of the economy and the bankers, who he says should be "flogging themselves in public".

"Because of the banks," Mick continues, " I had to bury my brother. Not a nice f***ing job. Not a nice f***ing job. He is buried down there." He points out across to nearby An Rinn, where Frank Mulcahy is buried in the new cemetery. He looks as if he is going to cry.

Five minutes later, we're sharing Tayto crisps outside Mooney's pub in Helvick with Mick's lovely girlfriend, Vera Whelan, a stained-glass artist from Wexford whom he has been seeing for the past nine months.

"I believe in God and the angels," he says. "My guardian angels are working overtime and they're not even in the union."

"Very loving and very affectionate" is how his brown-haired guardian angel Vera describes him. "He has a great big generous heart. He could get hurt very easily. He needs generous people around him or he would be taken for granted. But he is very loving."

Mick told Victoria Mary Clarke in this paper in July 2002: "When I'm 56, I'll marry a woman 30 years younger and I'll be as randy as the biggest goat in Puck Fair." Mick is now 60, of course. A little bird has told me that the artist recently asked Vera to marry him. Asked whether marriage is on the cards, their eyes both light up. "Of course," says Mick, "once we have a little house in view of the sea, we can see ourselves getting married."

The passionate determination with which Mick applied to pursuing and winning the heart of the 45-year-old Vera speaks volumes about him. After meeting Vera briefly at his exhibition in Wexford on the October bank holiday weekend last year, he moved within days from Helvick to Wexford to pursue this dream of going out with her. He found out where she went for coffee every morning -- O'Briens sandwich emporium on the main street -- and came in to see her. "He got to know me as a friend first and then it just went from there."

They are clearly smitten with each other. The only time he will shut up and behave is when she is speaking. Mick is a big child in this way. And in other ways, he is a big child constantly looking for attention. He doesn't seem content unless he is putting on a show and is the centre of attention. "He is performing all the time," Vera says. "All the time. His painting is expressionism and Mick is always performing and experiencing his inner feelings, too, even when he is not painting. He is very sensitive. Things impact on him deeply. His brother's death impacted on him deeply. The economy impacts on him deeply."

I ask her what's the difference between Mick Mulcahy and Michael Mulcahy.

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