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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Comic O'Carroll's grief for lost child

The man who is more known for making audiences laugh bares his soul on television to Gay Byrne, says Andrea Byrne

HE IS one of Ireland's best known comedians, but a programme to be screened tonight shows a reflective and at times emotional Brendan O'Carroll as he speaks candidly about the breakdown of his first marriage and about how the death of his child "nearly killed him".

"It was absolutely devastating. It tore my heart out. It still does. He would have been 35 now," the Finglas-born comedian says of his son who had spina bifida.

"I had prepared in my mind, the white picket fence, swing in the garden, taking him to the zoo, I had all these things planned, but then that happened, and the plans all went out the window and I couldn't find peace in myself," he says.

O'Carroll's son, who was also named Brendan, died within a few days of his birth. "They had to operate on him while he was still in the womb -- they had to remove some fluid from the brain. Every time they would remove fluid from the brain, it would damage him. When he was born, he was blind at this stage, then the next thing, he was paralysed. It was a gradual disintegration and I remember kneeling and begging God to take him. And for selfish reasons, because I didn't think I could cope. I was a young kid," a visibly upset O'Carroll tells broadcaster Gay Byrne.

"And then when God did take him, it was my fault and I thought, oh Jesus, what did I do that for... First of all, I didn't want to see him because he had no longer become the baby I had pictured in my head. He was a monster.

"They [the doctors] got around me, and I did see him and he was beautiful. God, just beautiful. I held his little hands and of course, bravado kicked in, and I said, 'Well, when can I have him home?' And the doctor said, 'Mr Carroll, you'll never have him home. Brendan could live for three days, three weeks, three months, but I hope for your sake, it's three days."

Ironically O'Carroll, who lost a fortune on an original feature film of Mrs Brown, is now consistently beating Ryan Turbridy's Late Late Show as the highest rated programme on RTE -- the first programme ever to do so.

In 1999, O'Carroll split from Doreen, his wife of 22 years and mother of his three children. Did he feel guilt for the spilt, asks Gay Byrne.

"Oh God, yeah. First of all, for the manner in which we broke up. I would rather it had have happened earlier, that I had been more honest. I was also very arrogant. I thought, 'Well, I can't leave because if I do she will fall apart,' which was terribly selfish and arrogant of me. She far from fell apart, she's extremely happy and living with a lovely guy. So I am sorry that I delayed that, I'm sorry that I held up her life. As well as that, I just wish it hadn't happened for the kids."

In 2005, O'Carroll married actress Jennifer Gibney, but assures Gay that she wasn't the reason for the break-up of his marriage. "Jenny was in my life at that stage and certainly there was the perception that I was leaving Doreen for Jenny, which couldn't have been more wrong. I was leaving because I needed to find some sort of happiness," he says, adding, "The fact that I did fall in love with Jenny was amazing, and here we are, 15 years later. I'm remarried and absolutely head over heels."

The youngest of 11 children, O'Carroll had a special relationship with his mother, Maureen, a well-educated Labour politician. "I am dyslexic, and when you're dyslexic, you feel like you're stupid, but I was also living with a genius who didn't think I was stupid, who had this theory that you should never confuse education with intelligence," he says of his mother, "and she said, 'You obviously can't learn like the others are learning, so we're going to have to find a different way for you to learn.'"

Asked whether the popular character of Mrs Brown is based at all on his mother, O'Carroll says, "I used to say no, absolutely not, because Mrs Brown is a collage of all those women on Moore Street and they were very strong women and had a great optimism, and that's what I saw on Moore Street and that's what I felt, but the more I have done book readings around the world and the more I have spoken about Mrs Brown, the more I am starting to see that Mrs Brown is my mam without the education," he laughs.

Not only has O'Carroll's Mrs Brown's Boys series raked in the viewers on Irish television, averaging over 800,000 each week, but viewers across the pond are also lapping it up, with the BBC expected to commission a second series.

"I have success now that I am very pleased with and very comfortable with," says O'Carroll, "but by God do I feel I have earned it".

'The Meaning of Life' is on tonight, 10.30pm, RTE One

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