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Mairead Farrell: 'I'm from the posh part of Finglas'

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Mairead Farrell

Mairead Farrell

Mairead Farrell

As she takes over the top job as producer on the hugely popular 'Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show' on Today FM, after 10 years with Ray D'Arcy, Mairead Farrell tells Barry Egan about how she struggled for years with the death of her beloved mother, the effect it had on her marriage, getting engaged again recently in Tuscany, and how being from Finglas is nothing like being in an real-life episode of 'Love/Hate'.

Mairead Farrell is comparing herself - albeit humorously and with her tongue firmly in her cheek - to a certain rock superstar.

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Mairead Farrell

Mairead Farrell

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

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Mairead Farrell

"Bono is from the posh bit of Finglas like me," the brunette says.

Mairead's la-di-da status as an alleged young Lady Muck of the Northside was even joked about in St Brigid's, the primary school she went to on the Old Finglas Road in Glasnevin. Looking back, she remembers being told at school, "Oh, you're from the posh part. You're so posh. Your mam is so posh."

Her late mother Maureen would always correct Mairead and her two older sisters when they spoke without the correct pronunciation. "I'd be like, 'So and so was in skewell'," Mairead chortles.

"And she'd say," - Mairead adopts a stern voice - "it's schooooool!"

"Finglas is an absolutely huge place," Ms Farrell adds. "Where I grew up every boy and girl went to Billie Barry. All the kids were on the Late Late Toy Show every year. I never was!"

In time, of course, the grown-up Mairead Farrell would be on the Late Late in her own right several times. She has also been a stalwart and on-air contributor to the The Ray D'Arcy Show on Today FM over the last decade; as well as managing Ballymun Kickhams on RTE's Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2010. "We got to the final but we lost by one point," Mairead, a big GAA fan, says. "I am still sore about that."

She was a regular on The Panel - to say nothing of Republic of Telly and shows like Hello Baby, Bye Bye Body, all on RTE. She is also presenting Ireland's Fittest Family on RTE, starting tonight.

Hailing from Glenhill in Finglas, Mairead laughs that, "people have this image of Finglas is like somewhere Love/Hate would be shot - or you would be shot!"

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Born in Dublin's Rotunda, on April 3, 1980 - "The Jam were number one with Going Underground when I was born," she says - Mairead was "the surprise". Her mother, she explains, actually thought she was quite ill instead of pregnant with Mairead, because she already had a 12-year-old and a nine-year-old - Simone (now 46) and Olga (43).

"Then she discovered she was pregnant at 40 with me," Mairead says, adding that, "Now this is the norm - women at 40 and beyond have children. But at the time she said she was ancient having me."

"My dad was 42," she says referring to Robert, who is now 76. "He was just like, 'Oh my god! Going back to all that again.' So I was a lovely surprise!"

When I say that the names of her two siblings are a bit intriguing, she laughs and tells me the story: "My mam, before she married my dad, lived in the States as an au pair for two years. Her pals were Olga and Simone, and she just really liked the names."

What was it like growing up in a house of four women? There was a lot of oestrogen in the one building for your father to deal with, I say. "There was," she hoots. "It came to a point, actually, where my dad, because he is really handy and can do anything, put in an en suite bathroom for him and Mam. We just had one family bathroom and Dad was fed up with four women. So then he and Mam had their own bathroom. He didn't have to share with us any more."

En suite bathrooms and an overload of oestrogen notwithstanding, Mairead says fondly that her family "are all so close".

"Olga had balloons at Dublin Airport when myself and Louis came home from Italy after getting engaged," the star says, referring to her engagement in Tuscany last month to Louis Ronan.

Growing up there were times, however, when one of her sisters was perhaps too close for comfort. Olga, she laughs, would read Mairead's diary and then say to her: "So, who's Darren?"

"I would be, like, 'How dare you do that?'" says Mairead, pretending to to hyperventilate to illustrate her abject horror at this sibling invasion of privacy.

"That was the kind of mean stuff she'd do to me. When I look back she wasn't mean but at the time she was the meanest person I knew."

I ask Mairead was Darren her first boyfriend.

"He was," she says. "He bought me a pair of Levi's jeans, which at the time was very much sought after. They were indigo."

Was he the first love of your life?

"No. No. The first love of my life would be Glen. He was a guy from Finglas who asked me for a drink. He was my first boyfriend-boyfriend. I went out with him for almost two years. I was just 18."

Why didn't it work out with Glen?

"I was just too young and he was quite serious," she says. "He was more mature than I was. He is married now with two or three children. I saw him recently at a Dublin match in Croke Park."

Presumably Olga had given her seal of approval for the relationship?

"I fancied loads of boys before him, but Olga allowed him," Mairead answers. "And Olga really liked him, and that would have been around the time, I suppose, that Olga started treating me like an adult."

The nine-year gap between the sisters just seemed to close around that time. Mairead Farrell went from being this spotty teenager with braces, to being this young woman who her big sister could chat to. What made Mairead Farrell change in ways she would never have foreseen, however, was the death of her beloved mother Maureen on April 2, 2001, in Saint Francis Hospice in Raheny, from cancer.

"It was the night before I turned 21," Mairead remembers. "So it was really shitty actually. There was only one area in the hospital where you could stay the night."

The whole family, were taking turns at sleeping over in the hospice with their beloved Maureen. Olga stayed the Friday night; Simone stayed the Saturday night. Mairead was supposed to stay the Sunday with her father. "I was meant to stay the night and wake up with my mum on my 21st birthday." Sadly, it didn't work out to plan. "I never got to stay because she died that evening," Mairead says. "It was a long time ago. We were all there with her, thank god, when she passed away."

"She'd got breast cancer when she was 58. Then that was taken care of," Mairead says meaning a mastectomy. "Mam was well for a year, she was back working and we thought. . . . " Mairead says, breaking off with the emotion of all the memories suddenly flooding back.

"And then, just after her 60th birthday, she became unwell again. At Christmas she got some very bad back pain. She got it checked out and the doctor took her straight into the hospital."

"And that," says Mairead forlornly, "was basically the end of her."

"They said it was quite advanced and it was in the bone," Mairead continues. "Once she heard it was on the liver, Mam said: 'I'm not taking any more treatment.' She said: 'I know I'm dying. And I want to die looking like myself.'

"She said that to all of us. She refused to take treatment and I know Dad at the time would have been: 'Take it.'

"And at the time," Mairead says, "I would have been angry at her for not attempting to do something about it, but in hindsight, I think she was the bravest person for doing what she did."

Mairead adds, poignantly, that now, 13 years after her mother's death, the same diagnosis might not mean death. "In those 13 years things have actually moved on a good bit." The Today FM star says that she and her best friend Linda bonded over the fact that both of their mums got sick around the same time.

Linda's mum Eileen died a full year and a half after Mairead's - "and in the very same way and the same hospice, and, I think, even the same room as my mother. Her mum was much younger than mine. She was only 44 and she did everything and took everything and battled really hard. She still died a year later."

"When Mam died," Mairead continues, "that was the first instance in my life when I thought things are shit, because up until then my life was just a joy." That said, Eamon Fitzpatrick more than provided Mairead with an urgent supply of joy when they met in the summer of 2002 in Today FM, where she was a rookie and he was a commercial director.

The couple didn't start going out until that November. Once they did start dating properly it was, she says, "a whirlwind - romantic and fast." They were engaged 10 months later, and married on September 3, 2004, in Naas, County Kildare.

"Eamon is from Cork, so we thought that instead of dragging all the Rebels all the way to Dublin, we'd kind of leave them on the road," she explains.

"He was a director in Today FM. I was a runner making tea and sending out prizes and doing whatever was needed. I was amazed he even knew my name," she says now.

Sadly, Mairead's marriage to Eamon - with whom she has a seven-year-old son, Dara - has long since ended. I ask when exactly did they split. "It was reported as 2010 but it was never 2010. No - it would have been late 2008, or very, very early 2009. Actually, it was 2008. You see, marriages don't break up, you know, on a Friday. They break up over months."

When did you realise the marriage was over?

"I definitely . . . " she says, pausing. "I knew it was over in January, 2009, but the break-up would have happened before that. You know? I can say it happened over six months, seven months, eight months, a year."

Mairead adds that during that dark period in her life she often thought to herself, "How did I get here? Because this isn't what I'm from."

"I'm not from marriages that end," she says meaning her parents, who got married in Cabra in 1964 and were together all their lives. "I'm from a really happy home."

I ask Mairead why she thinks her marriage broke up. "It is because, plain and simple, that I was probably grieving Mam a lot; and I felt I had to grow up and I got married way too soon."

Did you feel you got married almost on the rebound from your mother's death?

"It kind of was. It is funny you say that, but that is a line that I have used to friends and family and even to Eamon, my ex-husband," she says. "It was kind of rebound. This great love of my life, my mam, had died or had left me. Then, this good-looking, 6ft 2in, handsome boss swept in and swept me off my feet," she says. "I was heartbroken. I was very, very young, but I felt I had to be older, for some stupid reason. I had no mam any more. I thought I had to be a grown-up."

Did you ever say to Eamon at the start of your relationship, "I think this is too quick for me because I am still dealing with the death of my mother?"

"No, because I didn't believe that."

Or you didn't want to believe that?

"No, I didn't even know it. I didn't believe I was grieving. The time around when she died and the months after that were difficult but I was naive; sure, I had never grieved anyone before, so I didn't know what grieving was. I would have thought after four or five months that this is the norm; 'Mam's gone, you have got to get on with things.'"

"Eamon and I weren't with each other two years and we were already married. I was 24. He is nine years older than me. I think nine years is absolutely fine when you're both at certain ages. He was kind of next generation at the time to me. He was taking me to places I couldn't afford to go to. It was a totally different world and it was very exciting and romantic. I felt at the time that he was almost this kind of replacement for Mam. He was big and strong. My mam, she wasn't tall, but she was an incredibly strong character."

When did you realise the grief of your mother had overcome you and you had been too quick into a marriage?

"My marriage is over a long time now," she says now. "So I'm always careful [about talking about it.] Eamon has moved on now, and we have a great relationship. So I don't usually talk about Eamon either. But I suppose I maybe knew probably . . . before I had Dara, before I became pregnant. Maybe about a year after I was married, I would say."

"Probably 2005," she adds. "I thought the life I was living was much older than my years. Some of my friends were still in college or going on to do other things."

Mairead recalls visiting her friend Julia, who had gone to university in Liverpool, and "was having a blast".

"I went over to spend a weekend with her and she was having such fun. I just felt like, 'God, I feel so much older than her and we're the same age. How did that happen?' I was looking at myself going, 'Why am I this old wan when I'm 25?'"

Mairead says that didn't go to see a psychologist but she did go to grief counsellor - not after her mum died but after she got married. Is it not revealing that you went to a grief counsellor then?

"It probably is," she says, "but I felt at that stage that I was trying to impress someone who had died. I was trying to show what great things I could do for someone who wasn't around any more."

The extremely positive part of all this is Mairead and Eamon's lovely little boy, Dara, who was born on April 9, 2007. "Eamon and I are great friends. He is a fantastic father. He is a great ex-husband," she says, adding that she is "so, so proud" of how Dara has turned out.

"Dara is just a joy - beautiful and full of gorgeous manners. He has watery blue eyes," says Mairead, who has blue-y green eyes. "He is such a happy child."

Dara's happiness increased dramatically last month when his famous mammy got some good news, not least because the good news had a more than positive effect on his own young life. She got a plum (and much sought-after) job of producer on The Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM, after 10 years on The Ray D'Arcy Show for the same national radio station.

Last Christmas, Mairead explains, she went to Tenerife for some sun with her partner Louis and Dara. They were all getting ready to go home when Dara said to her: "I wish you weren't going back to work, Mum." Dara then started talking about the other mums. "He was saying, 'How come Michelle is there in the mornings and the afternoons?' That kind of thing. And, 'I wish you could bring me or collect me from school.'

"It was a real kind of awakening," Mairead says now, explaining that prior to the change of jobs she would be in work for 7.30am. "So I would leave when Dara was still asleep. The au pair would make him breakfast and bring him to school."

"I needed to change something," says Mairead.

That change came, out of the blue, when the vacancy as producer on Ian's show came up.

"So I am leaving Ray after 11 years. Ray is my mentor and has taught me everything," Mairead says. "But it means that now I finish at one o'clock, Dara's off school in Glasnevin at 2.40, and I will now be there to collect him."

What was Dara's reaction when you told him that you would be able to collect him from school?

"The best. His face lit up with delight."

This would more than likely describe Mairead's own face when boyfriend Louis asked her to marry him recently.

"Louis is a great guy," she says, "I met him in 2010." Asked what place she was at in her life then, Mairead says she was "much, much happier. Eamon and I had separated. I was in a completely better place. Eamon and I were much happier; it was almost like bursting a bubble. Obviously a marriage break-up is not nice; it was a horrible time. We were both very adult about it and, I suppose, we weren't very adult about getting married. We were both kind of kids and silly."

Had you resolved the issues in terms of your mother's death and the effect it had on your romantic life?

"Yes. I was turning 30 that year. I felt I had a lot of life experience, more than my years, a marriage, a separation, the death of my mum."

You were ready to meet someone then, I say, when Louis came along.

"No, I definitely wasn't even thinking that at all. I actually thought I wouldn't meet anyone for a long time, because I had a young child and I thought people would be a bit, you know - 'a girl with a child.'"

She met Louis at a Ray D'Arcy Show event in Punchestown in May, 2010, and then a month later, again by chance, in the Pygmalion pub in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, and two weeks later in Lillie's, he eventually secured her number.

Louis then waited a week before he sent a particularly heartfelt text. "I would really love if you would give me a chance and come out with me. I promise you it will be fun," it read.

Mairead's reply was succinct: "Well, if you promise it will be fun, it better be fun."

That Sunday, they went to All-Ireland Final at Croker, Cork v Down, and then the following weekend for dinner in Pichet restaurant on Trinity Street.

"And that was that," she smiles. "We were engaged last month near Siena in Tuscany. Louis's parents have a house there. We are going to get married next year."

Her mother would be proud.

'Ireland's Fittest Family' starts tonight at 6.30pm, on RTE One

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Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Close

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Close

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Close

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Close

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll

Mairead Farrell photographed by Kip Carroll


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