Tuesday 24 October 2017

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

'Most of my life has been about survival . . . trying to survive on my own terms'

Eamon Dunphy
Eamon Dunphy
Eamon Dunphy
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Is there anything left to be said? No, surely not. Almost eight weeks have passed since he launched his autobiography and we've seen and heard it all.

We've had the extracts in these pages, the 'spoiler' in the Irish Daily Star and the interviews pretty much everywhere. We've watched him on The Late Late Show, Today and Ireland AM. And check this out for radio: Seán O'Rourke, Ray D'Arcy, John Murray, Dave Fanning, Johnny Lyons, Second Captains, Premiership Live, Spin FM, Cork 96 FM and WLRFM.

So on this grey Friday morning, as you approach the front door of his home in Ranelagh, there's a strong temptation to retreat and raise a white flag.

Sorry Eamon, we surrender.

But 20 minutes later, you've changed your mind.

It starts, when you hand him a copy of The Rocky Road and ask about the portrait on the cover.

"What do you see?" I ask.

"I see a lie," he replies.

"A lie?"

"Yeah, I see a young guy who's confident, happy and on top of the world and I was unhappy, insecure and wondering where I was going to end up if I ever got out of the mess I was in. I think that was taken when I was at Millwall or Charlton or Reading; my book (Only a Game) may or may not have been published but that was irrelevant – it was well received but I wasn't going to get rich from it. I was desperate.

"That's not obvious from the photo," I observe.

"Yeah, I don't know who found it or where it came from. I'm sure it was taken when I was living with Sandra and the kids were young but there's no worse feeling when you're an old pro strapped for money, body wrecked and no qualifications."

I reach into my bag and hand him a small mirror.

"What do you see now?"

He lifts it to his face.

"Hmmmm, I see scars," he replies. "I see an elderly gent with a lot of life on his face, with a lot of . . ."

He pauses for a moment and puts the mirror down.

"I look very like my Da actually, when he was old."

The house phone rings. He decides to ignore the call.

"That will be Penguin (his publishers)," he says. "Fuck them."

But the answering machine is on. He is not good with technology. He still writes in longhand and does not have a mobile phone. A woman from the Big Issue is telling the machine she will try again later when she suddenly pauses and says, "Hello?"

He jumps from his chair, startled.

"Jaysus, she can't see me, can she?" he laughs.

He reaches into the bookcase for his stash of cigarettes. "I'm nearly off them," he explains, "but I just need one."

"I thought you promised Jane (his wife) that you would only smoke outside," I observe.

"I did," he replies, "but she won't kill me."

The call has unsettled him. Or perhaps it was the mirror. He sucks on the nicotine, fidgety and restless. It's a glimpse of Eamon Dunphy you haven't seen before.

Paul Kimmage: You're 67, right?

Eamon Dunphy: 68.

PK: Yeah, I saw a reference to your age a couple of weeks ago and it was a surprise to me that you were 'that old'.

ED: Well, I'll take that as a compliment.

PK: It is.

ED: Well I certainly don't have an old person's spirit, or mind. I'd still be very shocked, actually, at the idea that I'm 68 but I'd still have a youthful zest for life.

PK: Do you find that hard, holding a mirror to yourself?

ED: No.

PK: Because I get a sense from the book that you find it easier to hold a mirror to the world.

ED: Yeah, well I'll tell you why; I made a decision to keep my children's life private, and my wife and Inge (his former partner) who I lived with, to keep them out. They are not public people.

PK: Tell me about The Rocky Road. I presume, initially, it was going to be one book?

ED: Yeah, it was going to be one book, I just couldn't get it all in. The stuff that's not there is (Seamus) Heaney, John Hume, the Sunday Independent, the (Proinsias) De Rossa (libel) trial, The Last Word, Saipan . . . I couldn't fit all that stuff in. There's also another chunk about my family and my mother's distaste for my notoriety. I'm going to elaborate on that and a slight estrangement that eventually caused.

PK: At what stage did you make the decision that you were going to end it in 1990?

ED: I was coming up against the deadline last spring and I thought, 'This is going to be 700,000 words long if I keep going'. So I gave it to Colm Tóibín and he told me what to do. He gave me the title (The Rocky Road) and said, 'Stop in 1990 and rewrite around it to make a rounded book. And then you can start . . .'

PK: A second volume?

ED: Yeah.

PK: I've made some notes about a couple of things that surprised me: You spent your first 15 years living in a one-room flat on Richmond Road with your parents but you had no contact with the other families?

ED: No.

PK: That's amazing.

ED: It's astonishing.

PK: How does that happen?

ED: By osmosis. It's funny, but it's completely true. The toilet was outside and downstairs and there was a childless couple who lived across the landing and somehow it was contrived that no one would ever meet. Or sometimes you'd meet in the hall. I think it was down to my mother and the exterior of toughness that she presented to the world.

PK: You went to Mass every day.

ED: Yeah.

PK: When did you stop?

ED: I stopped in London when I was 21. It was a story I didn't put in the book because it involved my first wife, Sandra. We were going to a Catholic priest for instructions, which you had to do if you were marrying a non-Catholic, and he said I shouldn't marry her, that she wasn't a proper person . . . a Protestant. And over a period of four or five weeks he was extremely abusive and insulting to me, but more importantly to her, and I just thought, 'my God!' I was weakening anyway but this was a defining experience with this priest and I thought, 'Fuck it'. And we were married in a dark church without any trappings, which was not good.

PK: Did you marry in London?

ED: Manchester.

PK: You met Sandra in Manchester?

ED: Yeah, she's a Salford girl.

PK: How did your parents feel about you marrying a Protestant?

ED: My mother didn't like it; my father came over and he was fine but my mother didn't come. She wasn't well at that stage to be fair to her, and I'm going to go back to this in volume two but she wasn't mad about the idea of us getting married.

PK: And that's not in the book.

ED: No, it was bordering on the . . . on whether to put it in or not but it would have taken the book in a direction I didn't really feel, in fairness to Sandra, that it should go. This is difficult territory; I have a very strong belief in people's right to privacy – everybody's. You might question that.

PK: I'm curious about it.

ED: Well, you're a public person and have been since you were a kid; I'm Eamon Dunphy, and have been since I played for Stella Maris. And we have certain givens but most people don't like that light on them, although they think they might like it.

PK: But you've made that decision for Sandra. Maybe she'd have said, 'I don't have a problem with you explaining how we met'.

ED: No, but if you start explaining how you met, and how wonderful it was, you can't stop then and say, 'Well, at the end it was awful'. Because that's another book, and I don't think you can co-opt someone, or corral someone into your thing. I mean I'm a public person but my children for example, I felt bad enough about the experiences they had and the collateral damage (they suffered) with the Charlton stuff. But if I was to put them out there, or their world out there, I don't think that would be right. I wouldn't say that no one should ever do it, because people do it all the time – Hollywood stars and that – but I don't think of myself as a Hollywood star. I just think of myself as a father, or as a husband.

PK: But being a father and a husband is a part of your story.

ED: Yeah.

PK: Andy Warhol interviewed Truman Capote once and asked him if he ever wanted someone to call him 'daddy'.

ED: (Laughs)

PK: Did you ever want your kids to call you 'daddy'?

ED: My son calls me 'dad' and my daughter calls me 'daddy'. They do call me 'dad', yeah. Did I ever want someone to call me daddy? No, I never . . . I was a good father and have been a good father actually, despite the circumstances. I'm very close to my children, and very close to my former wife and to Inge. I get on great with them all.

PK: That's nice.

ED: Yeah, and that's important to me. It's very important to me that everyone is taken care of and that everyone is acknowledged. Relationships can fall into disrepair and fall apart; you change, and people change, and stuff changes but there are certain basic norms and principles that I believe in.

PK: That's interesting. There's no sense of that in the book.

ED: It would be a different book.

PK: If I had read the manuscript, I'd have said: 'Come on, Eamon, you can't just lob in the fact that you were married and had a newborn son at a crucial time in your playing career and just leave it there. We're halfway through the book and it comes out of nowhere!'

ED: Yeah but . . .

PK: When did you discover girls? What was that like? But you don't tell me and as a reader I felt cheated.

ED: Well, I think that's fair enough but I would say that this is a memoir of my professional life, not my personal life. That would be my answer to it. I understand that in a different kind of book you would put all of that out there, but to go back to the Hollywood analogy; I'm not a movie star and my children and my wives have not been movie stars, so they're not public people, they're private people and privacy is the greatest gift that you can have really. I mean Jane and I . . . hardly anyone knows that we're married. And you won't find her talking about me, and you won't find me talking about her unless it's unavoidable with someone like you.

PK: But she has talked about you.

ED: Very, very occasionally.

PK: She was asked who her most desirable date was once and said, "Eamon Dunphy."

ED: (laughs) That must have been said tongue in cheek.

PK: What if I was to suggest that this was a defence mechanism? You're not going there because it might reveal stuff about you that would cast you in a bad light.

ED: I don't think so. Do I keep things private because if I open it out something terrible will be revealed about me? The answer is no. The only thing that would be revealed about me is that I'm a much simpler and nicer guy than the public persona.

PK: Sorry, I just like getting inside people's heads.

ED: Yeah, I understand that and you can't get at that person (with me).

PK: No I can't. I see glimpses of him of him in the book and think, 'Great! Give me more', but he runs off and starts ranting about De Valera and Busby and I don't want that. I want Dunphy: 'Come back you fucker.'

ED: Yeah, and in volume two there'll be a lot of stuff about that partying and the Lillies, and the Renards and the . . .

PK: No, I'm not interested in that. Let me give you an example; the story you tell on the last page of the book is astonishing.

ED: About the boat?

PK: The boat. It's 1990. You've had this traumatic experience at the World Cup and have decided to get out of the country.

ED: Totally true.

PK: Yeah, but what's astonishing about it is that you're on your own. Where's your wife? Where are your kids? Where's your family?

ED: Well, at that point in 1990 I'd long . . . my marriage was over. I was living with Inge, and that relationship was about to end, which it did in '92 when I met Jane. It didn't end because of Jane but it had ended. That's why I was going to France on my own; Inge didn't like Deauville or the horses, but I know exactly what you're saying.

PK: But you needed to explain that. You tell us about the impact the World Cup had on your kids but we're reading this and thinking, 'Why aren't the kids with him?'

ED: Well, you've read the book and understood what isn't there, but what I'm telling you is why it's not there, and this will be my net point on that. The most important thing to me, Paul, isn't me. I have tried to tell a story about my family, and Ireland, and the mythology we grew up with and the suffering that mythology caused. I'm more, as a person, interested in what screwed this country up and what hurt my parents and my brother – a fabulous person who died suddenly three years ago . . .

PK: Yes, I was going to ask about that.

ED: He was a maintenance man in the Rotunda, a plumber by trade. He was a fantastic person, a good fucking person, so I'm much more interested in that. People say, 'Eamon, you're a brand,' and maybe I am a fucking brand but I'm actually not interested in that shit. If I was PR-conscious, no one would ever have known I took a line of coke.

PK: Yeah, but I'm not interested in the coke. I just wanted a bit more of you.

ED: Well, me is just someone who likes, in priority, my family, my sport, my bets and my friends. I like drink in moderation and try, all the time, to be as good as I can be. But most of my life has been about survival. The essence of me is trying to survive on my own terms, without becoming a rat, without kissing ass, without letting friends down; looking after my family, the best way I can. That's me in every single way. There isn't a mystery me.

* * * * *

It's Friday evening. He's had a two-hour nap, showered and changed and is sitting in the back of a chauffeur-driven Lexus en route to a signing in Belfast.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Friday night was showtime. He would spend the day reading and brooding, set the alarm clock for 5am and explode onto a page of the Sunday Independent. But those days are over, perhaps for us all.

"Journalism is over," he says. "When I was growing up there was a glamour about journalism; the idea that you were the people's tribune and going after things like Woodward and Bernstein. But long before Woodward and Bernstein, which was '73 and Watergate, there were people like Malcolm Muggeridge and Kenneth Tynan."

PK: You quote Kenneth Tynan as an influence.

ED: Yeah, he was great.

PK: He was a theatre critic.

ED: Yeah, I wasn't interested in theatre but I loved good writing. Clive James was the same. He was reviewing television but his reviews were bigger than the thing he was reviewing and Tynan was the same. He had this thing which I quote (a note he pinned on his desk at The Observer: 'Rouse tempers, goad, lacerate, raise whirlwinds'). I was coming back to small-town journalism – provincial journalism really in terms of those guys – with that in my head: 'Lacerate'. And away I went.

PK: I dug out the piece you wrote about Pat Kenny last week. The writing is brilliant, breathtaking, but Christ you absolutely lacerated him.

ED: There was a piece I did on Heaney . . . I'm going to write about this in volume two – Aengus (Fanning, the former editor of the Sunday Independent) gave me two middle pages, like 4,000 words, and I lacerated him and Fintan (O'Toole) by name and the Irish Times and the whole of Irish society. He had got the (Nobel) Prize on the Thursday and the Irish Times led with it on Friday morning and it was full of shit. I said (mimics a man gasping with rage), Aengus, let me go. He said, 'Take as much space as you want'. And I came up (delivered) on Saturday morning – boom!

PK: What was the trigger for the anger and the rage? There's a story you tell in the book about your mother, she didn't like this angry guy.

ED: My mother was alive when I was becoming this notorious controversialist and she didn't like it. And I happened to be having tea with her one night and she had the television on and I was on the Six-One News. I don't know what I was giving out about but she said: 'There's two Eamons – that fella and you'. And she didn't actually see the correlation between the two people and it's a very interesting thing to reflect on, you know, the public person and the private person.

PK: Yes, that is interesting.

ED: And my mother's objection to it would have been this; in her nature she was a very quiet woman and she didn't like the idea that she had reared someone who was out in the public space, mouthing off. Everyone she had ever seen in the public domain had been a chancer; none of them were saying what they thought. They were all playing a game, or a role and that offended something within her. She hated chancers and that's where a lot of my thing comes from.

PK: So you're your mother's son.

ED: Oh, very much so.

PK: The great journalist was born of your mother.

ED: I think so. I was down in Limerick doing a signing two weeks ago and my cousins came from Askeaton and Foynes, where my mother was from. And it was really interesting to meet them because we are not a close family and they had that thing, that toughness, that I don't have. I don't think of myself as a tough person at all, I'm a very soft person, that would be my father in me, but my mother was tough and decent.

PK: That wouldn't be the public perception. Most people identify with the controversialist.

ED: I think whatever perception there was of me has changed now. I mean, at the time of Italia '90, I don't think I had ever been seen laughing but I get a different reaction from people now, a nicer reaction. At the time of the Jack madness in 1988 and '90, that period, I came out of the Westbury one day and there's a little taxi rank there with five taxis on it and . . .

PK: They wouldn't take you.

ED: Five of them! And they didn't, not just take me, they said: 'Fuck off'. Taxi drivers refusing a fare! Of course, that was when they had a monopoly but still.

PK: You became famous after Italia '90. What was the impact?

ED: It's a horrible thing; somebody wrote, quite rightly, that fame is the excrement of achievement and this wasn't the excrement of achievement, this was the excrement of annoying the fucking country. I am, I hope, by nature not attracted to fame, which is why I go to Deauville and why I went to west Cork for a while.

PK: When did you live in west Cork?

ED: In 1992, for two years, which was an absolutely amazing experience in that village Castletownshend. It was brilliant; I was just treated like a neighbour. It was totally forgotten who I was.

PK: Why did you go down there?

ED: To get away from the shit. My marriage had broken up, I was going on the tear a little bit too much, that would have been the Joys (nightclub) era, and I just hung out for two years. Castletownshend is a dead end, a little harbour about five miles from Skibbereen and in winter it's completely without people. I'd get up, walk up to the shops, get my papers and my smokes, and come back to the house and read the papers and do nothing. It wasn't so much a duvet day as a duvet year; I'd go to bed after my lunch, sleep, walk, and get all that shit out of my system and discover what I needed to discover about my own head.

PK: It was after this period, when you came back to Dublin, that you started writing those really hard-hitting opinion pieces.

ED: Yeah.

PK: What was it about Seamus Heaney that triggered the rage?

ED: I was a poetry reader, always had been – Larkin, Betjeman, Kavanagh, Eliot, all of these great poets. I started reading Heaney out of curiosity when I came (from England) and I quickly realised that he was hopeless. And I mean hopeless, mediocre. So this cod started about him being great and what enraged me was, when he got the Nobel prize, the lead piece in the Irish Times, written by Fintan (O'Toole), went on and on and on and that sparked me. But the other thing that sparked me was my love of Kavanagh and my love of good poetry.

PK: To be honest, I've never really got poetry.

ED: Because you are probably reading bad poets; if I gave you Philip Larkin's Aubade, which is about death, you'll get every word. Larkin was a really interesting character. He was a bachelor, never married, went to Hull University, did a lot of pornography and fucked around with students and that sort of stuff. But a great poet. And Kavanagh was great but fucked-up too, but Heaney was a sanitised Paddy. One of his great lines was, 'Whatever you say, say nothing'. But I got huge reaction to that, I nearly lost my job.

PK: Really?

ED: Aengus (came under huge pressure). He said, 'That's the closest you've come to losing your job'. And I had written stuff about Hume and Robinson . . .

PK: How did you feel when Heaney died?

ED: The phone rang, it was The Sunday Times wanting to know if I had any comment. I felt sorry for him on a human level, I actually think he was a nice man because I encountered him around the town a couple of times.

PK: And?

ED: He was very nice. He put out his hand and said, 'Hello Eamon, how are you?' And the actual giveaway was, actually it's something I've already written for (volume two), he went on The Late Late Show the following week and Gay produced the Sunday Independent. 'What about Dunphy?' Because the whole nation was acclaiming him and in a very gentle way he said, 'Ahh, that's just Eamon'. So I don't think he was a bad man.

PK: I thought Digging and Mid-term Break were incredible.

ED: Yeah, I mean he has a whole body of work and you could get one or two little couplets out of it, but you'd have to do a lot of digging. But I was surprised at the reaction from the public; lots of people stopped me in the months that followed and said, 'You know what? I can't believe you wrote that piece. I was doing that (Heaney) in school for the Leaving and I felt exactly the same'.

(He laughs.)

PK: They weren't saying that when he died.

ED: No.

PK: Everybody loves you when you're dead.

ED: Yeah, everyone loves you.

PK: Even you?

ED: Well, I never felt any personal animosity towards any of the victims that I can recall. I mean, in a general way, I think Pat Kenny is a decent broadcaster but at that stage I was different. I thought there was a whole class of people supporting each other, stimulating each other, praising each other and bluffing the rest of us.

PK: This was Official Ireland.

ED: This was Official Ireland and the Irish Times would be full of it.

PK: And it drove you to rage. Willie Kealy (the Sunday Independent associate editor) told me a story about you. It was a Saturday morning, you had just filed your piece and he had to call you because the lawyers weren't happy.

ED: (Laughs) He was trying to talk me down.

PK: Yeah. He said you were screaming at him relentlessly for about ten minutes and then you stopped, suddenly, and asked him to hold on. He said you went away for two minutes and apologised when you returned to the phone: 'Sorry Willie, I had to take a Solpadeine. I was shouting so hard I gave myself a headache'.

ED: (Laughs) That's a good story. It may well be true. I turned up in the newsroom of the Sunday Tribune one day, a Saturday, wearing my pyjamas and looking like a madman when they wouldn't take my call. I'd written a very hard piece about Eoin Hand and the fucking (solicitor) was ripping up my copy.

PK: That passion is amazing.

ED: Well, it is now. For me it was all about . . . I invested a lot in my work and it was crazy stuff but Aengus was good, he was brilliant, he never said no. He would fuck the legal guys out of the room which is why we got into trouble in the end. We lost De Rossa and Kenny and . . .

PK: Was Kenny not before De Rossa?

ED: No, De Rossa was the first one to ever win a libel against me, and it was big – £300,000 – a record. It was huge for the paper, and everyone in the paper and a difficult moment for me and for Aengus. It came a year after Veronica Guerin had been murdered so the paper took two heavy blows. I felt responsible for De Rossa – and I was a busted flush after that.

PK: What do you mean by busted flush?

ED: My heart was bust, my spirit. I felt I had hurt the paper badly a year after Veronica and felt culpable, responsible. I was totally loyal to Aengus but felt I had let him down. It's interesting that you should mention Tynan and that passage ('Rouse tempers, goad, lacerate') but it drained out of me after De Rossa. It wasn't a short trial – there were three trials and it went on for a period of over nine months – and there's a photo of me somewhere with Jane after we came out of the court and it's deeply shocking. I look emaciated and was in pretty bad shape. People kept writing, 'He's out of control. He's become a monster', and I didn't agree with them but I could see how it looked. Sometimes outrage has its limits, and passion has its limits and I don't believe in that but I felt it then. Sometimes I wrote well and sometimes it was just barking. I needed to get out of the game for a while and was very lucky when Radio Ireland came along.

PK: You've said in a previous interview (Hot Press 2002) that radio 'rounded you.'

ED: Yes, it did. It allowed me to be more cerebral and do things in a more discursive way, rather than a polemical way. I had to change and adjust for radio and that was an interesting process. No one was going to come on as a guest and be shouted at by Eamon Dunphy.

PK: You gave an interview to Eoin McDevitt (Second Captains) recently and spoke about the Dublin social scene. You said, 'Joys was the last stop in town for people who couldn't go home, didn't have a home to go to, or didn't want to go home'. What category were you?

ED: Well, I was in all three places at times.

PK: Was there a period when you went off the rails?

ED: No.

PK: But you've already given me several hints that there was. What about the drugs?

ED: I think we need to stop fooling ourselves about the war on drugs. The war on drugs has been well and truly lost; I think it's a folly and I believe in the legalisation of all drugs – cocaine was legal until 1928 believe it or believe it not, and the world didn't fall apart. When you say 'off the rails,' I was lonely and semi-detached and in a kind of despair around that time I went to West Cork. But I wasn't a big drinker, never. And I never habitually smoked grass. And the cocaine I took . . . It was everywhere in the noughties and the naughty boy in me, which there is, said, 'Give me some of that'. But I soon realised it was shit and I told your woman (a reporter) from the Mail on Sunday that you couldn't 'get good coke in this town' as a joke. But I was never serious about it. And this myth grew up that I was Keith Richards but I wasn't even Mick Jagger.

* * * * *

This is what happens when he holds a mirror to himself. We've stopped for coffee at the Sprucefield Centre near Lisburn and are about to return to the car when Martin, his driver, decides to head to the bathroom.

"I'll wait for you outside," Dunphy says.

He strolls to the exit and lights up a smoke. It's cold and dark and spitting with rain and as he stares across the car park, he is struck by a fleeting panic.

There are thousands of fucking cars here! Will Martin remember where he has parked? Has he got one of those things you flick that help you find your car? What if he hasn't? How long will it take to find the car? What if we can't find the car? We'll be late?

He is shaking his head and smiling when we return to the car. "You're not going to believe what I've been thinking," he says.

The hidden Dunphy is revealed on the M1 to Belfast.

PK: You describe yourself in the book as a 'world-class worrier.'

ED: I would be, still am today.

PK: What do you worry about?

ED: Everything. I'd have worries on the go all the time about my children, my grandchildren, Jane. I was worried about you coming this morning: 'What time is he coming? How much will he need?' I was worried about Martin and this drive to Belfast: 'I need to call him. Did I call him? What time should we leave?' I like to know what's happening (with every minute) of my day and what I'm doing tomorrow. To me, not being in control of your own time is the ultimate terror.

PK: That's interesting.

ED: Going to hospital say because you're not in control – to me that's terrifying. And my childhood, I think, explains it. You become 'watchful' – the word I use in the book to describe myself – always wondering where the next pitfall is. Is my mother going to have enough to actually pay for what she has ordered? Is my Da going to have the price of the match? And you go to Manchester United and go on (to a career in) television and think, 'Ah sure I'll get over all that', but it's still in there, baby. It's still in there. As Mister (Noel) Pearson says: 'There's no cure for the madness'.

PK: What does Jane think?

ED: It drives her crazy. She charges her mobile at night but I'm watching RTE last week and they do a thing about the dangers of charging your phone and the fucking thing catches fire. So I said to her, 'No, don't do that any more'. And the night before last, I come into the kitchen and there's her phone on charge. I pulled it out and said it to her the next morning; 'For fuck's sake!'

PK: How did you meet?

ED: I met Jane in the Horseshoe Bar. She'll be really angry if I tell you any more.

PK: Keep going, I'll take a chance.

ED: She used to go in there for a drink and I used to see her. We were both in diminishing relationships at the time and both out of them when we went on the date.

PK: I'm more interested in . . . Was it in '09 you were married?

ED: Yeah.

PK: Why did you get married?

ED: I wanted to regularise everything. We'd been together for almost 20 years and it was the right moment. It was at Jane's convenience as much as mine, but I wanted no messing if I popped my clogs. I wanted to make sure everything was right. And I'm superstitious and fatalistic.

PK: You're superstitious?

ED: Yeah, I never used to be. I used to actually look for ladders to walk under when I was young.

PK: What changed?

ED: I think I saw more of life and saw people suffer or get unlucky. Or maybe I got more tender and more vulnerable because that's a thing about youth, you think it's never going to be your number on the bullet. And then you get older and realise that there's one out there for you. So you don't hasten the day by kicking black cats or walking under ladders.

PK: You've lost Dessie Toal, Aengus Fanning and Tim O'Connor – three of the formative influences of your life.

ED: Yeah, all in a year.

PK: Do you think about mortality?

ED: Yeah, I think about it a lot. I have always been prescient about my own career and the upside of that was that I was prepared for certain things, and able to adjust. But the downside of it is that when you get to 68, you start to see a funeral march (laughs). I'm so happy now in my life with my children, and with Jane but I do think about that a lot. I was actually thinking about it this afternoon when you were gone.

PK: And?

ED: Maybe it will feel like the end of a really nice holiday. I did The Meaning of Life there recently with Gay Byrne and he asked me the question he always asks at the end: 'If St Peter opened the Gate, what would you say?' I knew it was coming so I had a little joke prepared. I said, 'Are you still serving?' Which is what you'd always say when you go to Joys or some dodgy place, looking for a late drink.

Eamon Dunphy: The Rocky Road is published by Penguin

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