The funeral took place this week of RTE radio and television broadcasting legend Donncha O’Dulaing, who will lie at rest in Shanganagh Cemetery in south Dublin, far from his beloved native County Cork.
Charleville people had a particular affinity for Donncha, for he grew up in the town and worked here for a period in the 1950’s, and met his future wife, Vera, here. She was then a young teacher in Ballyhea National School.
He never forgot Charleville or its people, and they were uppermost in his mind to the last.
He was born in nearby Doneraile, where his father was a Civic Guard, and when he was transferred to Charleville in 1943 the family moved further north to Charleville. The ten-year old Denis Dowling, as he was known then, was uprooted from his familiar house, surroundings and friends in Doneraile to come to what was a bigger, bleak town with little employment, and still in the throes of the Second World War, and all that entailed.
But he quickly made friends with, among others, Noel Tarrant, Kevin Owens, the Cork hurler Dan O’Mahony, and got up to the usual mischief that boys do. He was also an altar boy in Holy Cross Church, which helped with his transition in getting to know the town, and of course he attended the local Christian Brothers School, as he had done in Doneraile.
His love of music was stimulated in the home of Noel Tarrant, where they would listen to the great tenors of the day like Mario Lanza, Josef Locke, Count John McCormack or Michael O’Duffy. He also had the Hurley’s Pavilion Cinema where Hollywood came to Charleville and later on amateur dramatics took off in the local Parochial Hall.
This was also punctuated by visits from the fit-ups who came to Charleville, bringing professional theatre to rural towns in the depths of winter. He saw artistes like Jimmy O’Dea, Maureen Potter, Moira Deady, John Cowhey, Milo O’Shea or Hal Roche.
But life changed for the young Denis when his father was taken ill in 1946. He recovered but had a relapse in 1947 and died in May of that year.
After a stint in the Presentation Brothers Novitiate, Denis returned to Charleville and started working for a local dentist, Paddy O’Riordan, as a dental mechanic. He involved himself in the local branch of the Gaelic League, and was now a fluent Irish speaker.
He organised a drama group and competed in the first North Cork Drama Festival in a Bryan McMahon play, and also ran variety concerts in the Parochial Hall, and ended up running the actual hall itself, and winning a billiards tournament in the 1950’s.
Donncha did not neglect his spiritual needs at this time and he was a member of the Charleville Legion of Mary, where his mentor was Michael McGrath senior, then the town postman (this writer’s father). He married the teacher Vera Galvin, who hailed from near his mother’s native place in East Cork.
On Vera’s advice he sat the matriculation examination to enter UCC. He got help with his studies from Sr. M. Berchmans at the local Convent of Mercy, and he succeeded in gaining entry to the seat of learning where Finbarr taught.
He graduated with a BA Degree from UCC in 1960 and joined the Ford Motor Company for a period before doing an interview for RTE in Cork and being accepted, and suddenly he became Donncha O’Dulaing.
His exploits within RTE have been well documented both in radio’s, initially, ‘A Munster Journal’, and later went to live in Dublin when he was based in Donnybrook. The three-O-1 afternoon programme followed, and this eventually gave way to ‘Highways and Byways’ and finally ‘Failte Isteach,’ the hugely popular Saturday night programme.
His television series, ‘Donncha’s Road Show’ also garnered a big following. His broadcasting career came to an end in May 2015 after 50 years at RTE.
I made his acquaintance in 1975 when he came to Charleville to do a radio programme on the local paper, ‘The Charleville Review’, which Noel Tarrant, Dan O’Mahony and myself brought out. He and I established an immediate rapport and we have been staunch friends ever since.
Any occasion he visited our house we would stay up until the small hours going up and down Charleville’s streets as he name-checked the people who lived there during his time in the town. Donncha was the quintessential Cork man and his support of the Rebel County never wavered even when the hurlers weren’t going so well.
He revelled in hearing positive news of Charleville, whether that was on the sporting, industrial or cultural fronts, or indeed in any other way, and he was ever ready to assist in any way possible. His likes will not pass this way again.
Ar Dheish Lámh Dé go Raibh a Anam Dílis.