| 6°C Dublin

'It was a real mixed marriage. I'm a straight Catholic and he was a gay Protestant'

Matt and Michael found an Irish solution to an Irish problem, writes Alan O'Keeffe

Close

HAPPINESS: Michael O’Sullivan holds a photograph of his late husband Matt Murphy at their Stoneybatter cottage. Photo: Steve Humphreys

HAPPINESS: Michael O’Sullivan holds a photograph of his late husband Matt Murphy at their Stoneybatter cottage. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Hitched: Matt Murphy (left) and Michael O’Sullivan after their civil wedding at the Registrar’s
Office in Dublin. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Hitched: Matt Murphy (left) and Michael O’Sullivan after their civil wedding at the Registrar’s Office in Dublin. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

/

HAPPINESS: Michael O’Sullivan holds a photograph of his late husband Matt Murphy at their Stoneybatter cottage. Photo: Steve Humphreys

When long-time friends Matt Murphy and Michael O'Sullivan got married, they openly admitted they did it to avoid inheritance tax. Two years ago, their marriage resulted in a blaze of publicity as it appeared to many that they were two straight men involved in novel tax planning.

Tragically, Matt passed away less than a month ago at the age of 84. Speaking in his first interview since his husband's death, Michael lifts the lid on their unconventional relationship, telling the Sunday Independent: "It was a real mixed marriage: I was straight and he was gay and I was Catholic and he was Protestant."

By getting married a few days before Christmas in 2017, the couple sought to ensure that Michael would eventually inherit Matt's house without having to pay a €50,000 tax bill.

Matt suffered from ill-health in recent years and Michael was his full-time carer in the months before their marriage.

Their marriage came at a time when both were experiencing difficulties. Matt's failing health meant he might need nursing home care but he wanted to remain in his own house in Stoneybatter, Dublin, where he had lived alone since he bought it in 1982. Paying for full-time care in his own house could be very costly.

Meanwhile, Michael, who has three adult children from two former relationships, was experiencing accommodation problems after a house where he was staying was put up for sale. He ended up sleeping in his car on the odd night and other times his friend Matt invited him to stay overnight at his home.

Matt proposed that Michael become his full-time live-in carer and, in return, he would leave Michael his house in his will when he died.

"I told him it was a brilliant idea but I would have to sell it because of inheritance tax," said Michael.

One of Matt's old friends later suggested to Matt that marrying Michael would get around the inheritance tax problem. Matt laughed at the idea but later proposed it to Michael and he agreed. Michael became Matt's live-in carer in early 2017.

Michael told this newspaper they did not feel that they were being brave in getting married as they intended to keep quiet about it. But when Matt phoned Liveline about the good treatment he received at the Mater Hospital, he told a researcher on the show: "Do you want a laugh? I'm getting married next week."

He ended up telling Joe Duffy live on air that he was marrying his carer Michael O'Sullivan to avoid inheritance tax. When Michael later spoke to the show, he stated he was a straight man.

Michael said an assumption that Matt was also a straight man seemed to emerge because Matt was not asked directly about his own sexuality in the Irish media.

Few were aware that in a follow-up story in The New York Times, Matt disclosed that he was gay. He told the US newspaper that if two people can live together and help each other, it was the most important thing in life.

While Michael may have gained thousands of euro in tax savings from their marriage pact, he said his relationship with Matt resulted in him losing some of his own friends.

Michael said that while Matt had helped him financially in the past, some former friends had drawn mistaken conclusions that he was taking advantage of Matt financially.

Their misgivings resulted in the HSE arranging for Matt to be psychologically examined to ensure he was of sound mind before the wedding and the tests proved he was, said Michael.

"We had a really good relationship. We could talk about anything to each other, without filters," he said.

Matt was born to a single mother in Ballinure, Co Tipperary in 1935 and he became a trainee butler in a local mansion at the age of 13. He moved to Dublin at the age of 33.

Michael was born in 1959 and grew up in the family home in Benburb Street, the son of a Guinness worker.

Matt and Michael began working for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in the 1970s and they met and became friends in 1990 when they were both working in the computer section of the telephone service in Earlsfort Terrace.

There was a 24-year age gap and Matt would say Michael was like a younger brother to him. Michael went on to have three children from two different relationships and, over the years, his friendship with Matt was rekindled a number of times.

Michael said he would bring Matt along to meet his friends and "everyone fell in love with him" because he was "an utter gentleman".

Matt appeared in a number of television commercials over the years. Michael played 1916 leader James Connolly in Pull Down A Horseman with fellow actor Declan Brennan which they performed widely, including a performance at Aras an Uachtarain. Michael is now a professional actor seeking work.

Dublin photographer Donal Moloney was engaged in making a documentary movie about the couple since their marriage and he intends to release it later this year.

Mr Moloney said: "There is no way Matt would have survived the last two years without Michael. They were perfect together. They never shut up talking."

The marriage was "an Irish solution to an Irish problem", he said.

Matt's health problems increased over time and his eye sight deteriorated further and there were early signs of dementia.

Then, last month, he became very ill and he ended up on a trolley in the Mater Hospital for 48 hours. He was placed in an influenza ward and his condition weakened further.

Michael said: "Years ago, the first song I ever heard Matt sing was Moonlight in Mayo. In the hospital, I sang the song quietly in his ear and I knew he heard me because he squeezed my hand."

Matt died in the palliative care ward on January 14 at 4.17am.

Michael recalled their wedding day when Matt sang Let The Rest Of The World Go By.

At Matt's funeral, it was Michael's turn to sing Let The Rest Of The World Go By. The words of the song included the lyrics: 'With someone like you, a pal good and true, I'd like to leave it all behind and go and find a place that's known to God alone, just a spot we could call our own… And let the rest of the world go by.'

Sunday Independent