The singer-songwriter turned novelist on crying on stage, taking his dad’s advice and having skinny legs
Born in Dublin, Declan has been crafting songs since he was 13 and living in Australia. He has released seven studio records and now lives in Kinvara with his wife, Eimear O’Grady, a stuntwoman, and their son.
What’s your earliest memory?
Being in the kitchen in Ballyfermot with my mam and her friends.
When and where were you happiest?
I’ve had a lot of happiness in my life, but I’m going to say my teenage years, discovering music, discovering like-minded people and being in young bands.
What is your biggest fear?
Apart from the fear of what we’re giving to our children, the fear that I will run out of time.
What’s your least, and your most, attractive trait?
I have skinny legs. But I like my hands.
What trait do you deplore most in others?
Generally speaking, superiority of any kind.
What’s the first thing you’d do if you were Taoiseach?
Plant a billion trees, under the banner of ‘Make Ireland Green Again’! I would start an initiative to see Ireland regaining a huge chunk of its long-past former coverage in forestry (current estimates put our tree count somewhere close to 709 million, whereas at one time there was twice that amount).
What’s your biggest insecurity?
That I talk too much sometimes.
Who would you most like to go for a pint with?
I’m very lucky to have had plenty of pints with lots of people I wanted to. Can I have a coffee with Ernest Shackleton, on board the Endurance?
Which fictional character do you most identify with?
If it’s not too shameless, I see different elements of myself in both Cornelius Creed and Pádraig ua Buaćalla; the leading male characters in my first novel, The Pawnbroker’s Reward.
What is your most treasured possession?
Possession is an illusion, but I’ll say my life, the luck I’ve had, sight, wits, and my family.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Switching off from time to time and bingeing out on some TV series.
What’s the last TV show you binge-watched?
Lincoln’s Dilemma — a docuseries, on Apple TV, I think.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When I was 11 or 12, my dad gave me some career advice. He told me to “stick with art or music”, as opposed to getting a ‘real job’, was the implication. What a cool dad, huh?
When did you last cry, and why?
On stage recently, in Kilkenny, while trying to sing a song. Music loosens the tap sometimes and I was feeling a complex twist of emotion, being back up there.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
I’m going to say Matt Damon. My wife loves him, so we must have something in common, right? He’d have to perm his hair, of course, and grow a beard.
Do you believe in a God?
Not in the religious sense. Nature is wondrous, magnificent and epic enough.
What’s your favourite word?
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I’d say, “keep doing what you’re doing, just like your dad said, and all will be fine.”
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Absorbing knowledge and wisdom.
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
Exposing my cheeks in anticipation of a tetanus injection behind the curtain, only to be told by the returning nurse that, “we don’t do it that way anymore.”
Did you find it easy to transition from song writing to novel writing?
It was a graduation inspired by the story of a particular family during the famine. They came from just outside Macroom, in Co Cork. I think I’ve discovered through crossing over that the feeling, and the process of it, is incredibly similar.
Tell us a secret...
You can do literally anything you want to do.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
See Ya Later, Alligator sung by Chuck Berry, in person, backed by The Beatles and a marching band led by Louis Armstrong.
Declan will be discussing his debut novel, The Pawnbroker’s Reward — A Narrative of the Great Famine, on Sunday June 26 at the Hinterland Festival of Literature & Arts in Kells, Co Meath. Info from hinterland.ie