Thursday 22 February 2018

'I'm still open to a woman in my life', says Dr Ivor Browne

Ireland's most famous psychiatrist talks love, loneliness and tripping through evolution on LSD

Mind-blowing memories: Psychiatrist Dr Ivor Browne, at home in Ranelagh
Mind-blowing memories: Psychiatrist Dr Ivor Browne, at home in Ranelagh
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'A man came to see me once who had trouble finding his wife's G-spot," muses Dr Ivor Browne. "He came back the next week, far more upbeat: 'It's OK!' he said, 'Her sister had it all along!"

I'm sitting at the kitchen table in the home of Ireland's most-renowned psychiatrist and the 87-year-old is trying to outdo me with his favourite risque jokes.

Nell McCafferty Photo: Tony Gavin
Nell McCafferty Photo: Tony Gavin

I give it another shot. An unprintable one-liner about the difference between women and washing machines - and his eyes water as he chuckles: "You're vulgar!"

There's 50 years between us, but shared juvenile jokes melt away the years.

He answers the door, still tall and ramrod straight, tanned and wearing a light linen suit that wouldn't be out of place at a royal garden party. His memory is sharper than mine - he remembered our last meeting, which I had forgotten, and he tells his tales of debauchery vividly and with pin-sharp recall of the details that make a story sing.

There was an all-day drinking session with Brendan Behan - which climaxed with the inebriated playwright shooting glass bottles as Ivor threw them up in the air. Each time Ivor begged him to stop, Brendan pointed the gun at his head.

Sebastian Barry Photo: Peter Nicholls
Sebastian Barry Photo: Peter Nicholls

And he talks about recreational drug taking with disarming frankness.

He has the ability to move seamlessly between the silly and the philosophical, modern-day conundrums and ancient wisdoms. It is easy to appreciate why so many of Ireland's great writers and thinkers come to seek his pansophy.

Colm Toibin is a close friend, while Sebastian Barry has likened him to a father figure: "When Sebastian and Ali [Alison Deegan, his wife] were not doing well, we used to bring them fish and chips," says Ivor of their fond friendship,

These days his list of professional clients has been cut back to three, "although there's a far bigger queue than there was".

The late Brendan Behan Photo: Getty
The late Brendan Behan Photo: Getty

Recently the public managed to get a further insight into his work on the RTE programme Meetings with Ivor, which featured a number of well-known personalities.

As Ivor (he hates being referred to as 'Dr Browne') tapped his pen on a wooden table, viewers saw singer Mary Coughlan mentally transported back in time, regressing to an almost infant state where she crooned for her mother. But perhaps the most noteworthy moment came from Nell McCafferty.

Ireland's best-known feminist didn't even afford the doctor the click of his pen before she launched into a prickly affectionate tirade, accusing him of acting vain, patronising and akin to a "male chauvinist piggie".

Stealing a stock phrase from the psychologist's shelf, how did that make him feel?

"I don't know if she's really that angry," he muses, "I think she is rather sad lately because time has kind of passed her by."

Passed her by?

"All of that movement which she was part of - there are much younger women now who are enjoying the freedoms they fought for without even appreciating the battles."

Despite Nell's assertions, Ivor says he "loves women". He bestows on them the title of "the superior sex" and adds: "They are more real, less aggressive and better at relationships."

Does he miss the physical side of relationships as he gets older?

"Well, I certainly wouldn't feel the intense emotions - but I mean if somebody was willing to have a relationship, I would like that," he chuckles. "I would need to get a bit of Viagra though."

After two marriages and four children, he lives alone since his second wife died nine years ago. In her last year she suffered a stroke and became physically challenged. Ivor took over as her main caretaker - a time when he says they "became closer than ever."

He misses her "tremendously", and still feels that lonesomeness when he arrives home to an empty house.

Is he able to be alone with his thoughts?

"Yes, but I also feel very lonely at times." He counts his blessings that he is not as isolated as others his age, but says sometimes he feels it creep in when he is out for his daily walk.

"I notice if I walk up along the Dodder, people aged 40 onwards will say hello but the young people all have yokes sticking out of their ears. They are completely out of relationship with what's going on around them."

The funny thing is that Ivor has probably had more hell-raising experiences than any of these plugged-in teens he passes on the street. He is up to date with the South American hallucinogenic ayahuasca which he says is sweeping Ireland, and describes his love of smoking grass while listening to jazz. He says his most memorable trip on LSD back in the day was "a wonderful experience".

"I laid back in a bath with a little yoke for scratching your back and between that and the blueish walls, I felt like I was in ancient Egypt. I remember recapitulating the whole of evolution," he says with a chuckle, "coming all the way through the jungles right up to today and being shot out of a spout".

But he has experienced equally nightmarish narcotic trips. While resting back in another bath, he describes "feeling all my energy drain away into the water. I remember vomiting at one stage and even coughing up blood. A lot of it depends on the mood you're in and the setting. If you're in the wrong atmosphere it can cause a lot of problems - but if it is taken in the right circumstances, as the Native Americans and those in Peru do, it can be a very insightful experience."

For a man who has lived such a life of colour, does he worry about dying?

"It's a difficult question. It's hard to answer that, unless you know that tomorrow you're going. I think I will feel some fear and sadness, but that it won't last too long. I can't really answer that until it happens.

"I have it in my will to be cremated and I'd like my ashes to be scattered on Dalkey Island, but that's just sentimental. I have a relationship with Dalkey Island. I was brought out as an infant in a basket and I have been going out there ever since. So it's something of a spiritual home."

A firm believer in reincarnation, he doesn't feel this will be his last spin on the merry-go-round.

Where do you think you'll end up in the next life?

"I don't know, but I have a fair hunch I have a lot of things inside me not yet completed."

Sunday Independent

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