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PJ Mara was Charlie Haughey's press secretary, and a man I liked. While he had a ruthless streak he could certainly have been said to have added to the gaiety of the nation Photo: Declan Shanahan

PJ Mara was Charlie Haughey's press secretary, and a man I liked. While he had a ruthless streak he could certainly have been said to have added to the gaiety of the nation Photo: Declan Shanahan

Declan Shanahan

PJ Mara was Charlie Haughey's press secretary, and a man I liked. While he had a ruthless streak he could certainly have been said to have added to the gaiety of the nation Photo: Declan Shanahan

My father died last January at the age of 90 and at year's end my thoughts turn to what is described at Mass as "the altar list of the dead".

I didn't mourn my father because he had a good life, but I do miss him.

He read the newspaper every day and when you called to see him he would impart his opinions and observations on the stories and the columnists, even though he knew most of them only by repute.

Although he was self-educated he had great powers of retention, even in his dying days he could recall the details of the Battle of Chancellorsville from a three volume tome on the American Civil War by Shelby Foote.

People tend to regard death and graveyards as morbid, but there is no reason why they should be.

Most of us don't want to face our own mortality, which is understandable. People are living longer because of healthier lifestyles, but the trouble is that people's bodies are out-living their minds and that is creating its own problems.

Eat, drink and be merry, we have only one life and we should all enjoy it when we can, and when the time comes to pass down the road the best way to do it is without regrets.

January marked the passing of two very different men linked by a common threat, Charles J Haughey.

The first to go was Patrick Connolly SC in whose Dalkey apartment the murderer Malcolm McArthur was discovered, giving rise to the acronym GUBU - "grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented", coined by Conor Cruise O'Brien to describe the situation.

Connolly was Attorney General in the government of the day and went back to the bar after the traumatic events of which he never spoke. But his funeral Mass was told that he meticulously kept a diary and the events of that time may one day find their way into print now that most of the protagonists of that era have passed on.

The other was PJ Mara, Charlie Haughey's press secretary, and a man I liked. While he had a ruthless streak he could certainly have been said to have added to the gaiety of the nation.

I certainly wasn't on the A List of "political influencers" but he always had a way of making you feel important. "Collins," he would intone, taking a cigarette from his lips, "how are things at the Sindo?" He was as interested in hearing gossip as imparting it.

The night of the Moriarty Tribunal findings, which criticised him, I sat with him and others in the bar of the Shelbourne Hotel and wrote about it the following Sunday.

He probably didn't like it, but next time we met he said: "I didn't realise I was being interviewed," and nothing more was said.

Sir Terry Wogan I met a couple of times around the foundation of Century Radio, in which he had a small stake.

He was infinitely polite and uncomplicated. His was the common touch without any "side" and he seemed almost amused at his own popularity in Britain, where he was everyone's "favourite Irishman".

Another man I interviewed way back was Frank Kelly who had a distinguished career in the theatre but became immensely popular as Father Jack in the comedy series Father Ted.

When his autobiography came out I rang him to arrange an interview, and while we had a long conversation we never got around to setting a date and doing it.

In April two writers I never met, but would have liked to, died - Ivor Kenny and Patrick Ryan.

Ivor Kenny was a management consultant, but he was also an interviewer of some skill and erudition, bringing out volumes of business interviews Out On Their Own and Achievers which tell you a lot about the plutocrats who helped make Ireland what it is today.

Patrick Ryan, "sad dark Paddy", was the son of the founder of the Monument Creamery chain.

Despite money and good looks he led something of a tragic life, ending up homeless in San Francisco where he wrote The Ballad of Gravy Joe.

Unlike his brother John and his sister Kathleen he never achieved success as a writer or artist, yet his poetry has a frightening intensity. In May, Bart Cronin, another press officer, died. He worked with Albert Reynolds when he was Minister for Finance, and as Albert was a former employer of mine, we often met to chat, rarely about business but what was going on in the world.

A few days later, on June 4, Michael Keane, the last editor of the Sunday Press, died at the age of 68.

Michael, who had been an Irish Press correspondent in Belfast, was one of those infectious newspapermen who loved the business.

He wasn't ruthless enough to be a great editor but he did go on to build a second career in public relations. In September I saw a death notice for Des Rushe, another newspaper man I knew, though not very well. Originally from Sligo he was a well-known columnist and theatre critic in the Irish Independent (Tatler's Parade) when I first worked there. It was a time of much carousing in The Oval Bar in Abbey Street, whose walls were lined with portraits of its well known customers from "the Indo".

Most of them were done by the artist Bobby Pyke when he ran out of money to buy drink and the hapless "sitter" would have to fork out for the portrait and buy a drink for Pyke when he was doing it, and probably for his boon companion the photographer Joe Fay.

John O'Grady, the dentist who had his fingers chopped off by Dessie O'Hare during a brutal kidnapping ordeal in 1987, died, and I was among the attendance at his funeral in Sandymount, D4. I didn't know him but was struck by the quiet dignity with which he put his life back together and also by his determination not to let that dreadful ordeal which he never spoke about define the rest of his life.

There were so many others who departed during the year who I met fleetingly or saw across a crowded room. Probably the one who made the biggest impression on me over the decades was the singer/songwriter poet and mystic Leonard Cohen.

I listened to his music and haunting lyrics since I was a teenager and once had a love affair with a girl in Mullingar because I was the first person she met who knew the lyrics to Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye.

I saw him across a crowded reception in the Harp Bar in Dublin in the early 1970s but I was too bashful to approach him.

He died just a few months after sending a tender lament to the dying Marianne Ihlen, the Norwegian beauty who inspired his song So Long Marianne when they lived together in Greece during the 1960s: "Well Marianne, it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand I think you can reach mine. And you know that I have always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom... but now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road."

Who could put it better than that?

And yes, before year's end he had kept his promise.

Let us hope that our own friends and loved ones, who passed down that same dark road had a good journey.

Sunday Independent