Maura Derrane's wild years: 'We'd have been sacked if there were camera phones back then'
Maura Derrane finds herself returning to Aran more and more these days.
Primarily, she's doing it for her son, Cal (3), but it's for herself, too. Maura admits that there's a hakuna matata, circle of life, element. She had an "idyllic" childhood on Inis Mor, but spent her teens dreaming of the bright lights and the big smoke, and has spent her adult life in the glare of those same bright lights. In her day-to-day life, Maura inhabits a world that is as far from Aran as is possible in Ireland, and yet, now, somehow, she is drawn back to the island. It's for Cal's sake, but not exclusively.
"I was there for about two months this summer," says Maura, who has recently settled back into the Today sofa with Daithi O Se after their seasonal break. "I have really gone back. It's really made me see how we were so different growing up there. And I see Cal with his little five-year-old cousin Ethan, and I see that Ethan is an island child like we were. That's what made me realise how different we were growing up there, and I want a bit of that for Cal.
Maura says it takes her "about a week to get into the Aran zone" when she goes home. And then when you get into the zone, you're deeply in it. The fact of not being able to leave easily, having to rely on either a boat or plane, exaggerates that feeling of remove from the rest of the world.
"I'd been down there two weeks in the summer and I had to come up to Dublin for a day for meetings," Maura explains with a laugh. "Oh my god, I couldn't get over the noise [in Dublin]. There's no noise in Aran except birds and the plane coming in. I love that sound. It's like a parallel world."
Maura laughs even more when she describes how her mother is always baffled by the large suitcase with which she always arrives to Aran."And totally unsuitable stuff," she says. "Like, I go nowhere when I'm there. I don't even go to the pub. I'd have jeans. A few pairs. Jeans! When all you need is a tracksuit. And [I'd have] a huge make-up bag. Three kinds of foundation.
"When I'm there," Maura adds, "it's no make-up and the hair's huge. My hair's so curly, and I just go native. My mother forces me to put on the bit of lipstick if I'm going to the shop. She doesn't want me shaming her, but also she doesn't want anyone saying, 'Look at your one off the telly'. And I forget what I look like until I see people doing a double-take."
As Maura pours forth a great love letter to the free, natural and unspoilt world of Aran, I wonder if this is the real her. Is the real Maura Derrane the woman on the telly, married to Waterford FG TD John Deasy, based in both Dungarvan and Dublin, soignee, sophisticated and urbane? Or is the real Maura the one who "goes native" and enjoys nothing more in the evening than a glass of wine with her mother once they've got Cal to bed?
"Who I am is who I have become in my job and in my life off Aran," Maura says, quite decisively. "When you grow up in a place like that, it's a very different childhood. Idyllic in one way, but also quite enclosed. For me, I suppose, Aran is like a grounding. If you grow up somewhere like that, a bit of it never leaves you. It keeps some part of you simple. And I love that now, but for years, I wanted the bright lights. When I was small, I loved Aran, but when I got to about 16, the knowledge that there was something else out there and the draw to it was very strong.
"Life and make-up and men and woohoo!" Maura exclaims.
And did you go bonkers once you hit the mainland?
"Oh, yeah," says Maura.
Like the Amish, I say.
"The Amish on their year off," Maura says, laughing.
When Maura first left Aran, it was for Galway. Her first TV job was in TG4, where she started in 1996. In the sense that everything is relative, these were the bright lights that Maura had always suspected existed somewhere, and she loved it. At the time, it was TnaG, and in the process of repositioning itself as a younger, more vital station than would have been the expectation and the gaeilgoir stereotype.
"We were all young. All single," says Maura, with a touch of dreamy nostalgia in her voice. "The crack was mighty."
Then, in 1999, Maura moved up to Dublin and to TV3.
"It was like I had arrived," she says, amused in retrospect both by her innocence and the chutzpah of youth. "This, I thought, is where I should be. I was young and able for it - it'd kill me now - but I was, like, 'Bring it on!'"
If her rhapsodising about Aran was an ode to simplicity, Maura's musings on the early days in TV3 are like a love letter to a time when, to coin a phrase, "we all partied".
TV3 was the place to be, Maura says. They all worked very hard, but they partied hard, too. "TV3 were very good at throwing a party," she says. "Like, when the Corrie people were over, or they'd bring us out with clients all the time. RTE was very sensible, but TV3 was, 'Woohoo, look at us!'"
Maura is practically misty-eyed recalling the Renards days, or more accurately, nights that turned in to very early morning.
"Renards was the last stop on a night out," Maura says. "You'd arrive at 3am and run straight upstairs. Robbie [Fox] would say, 'There's no one up there, everyone's gone home,' and I'd say, 'No, I'll check myself,' and off I'd go."
It was burning-the-candle madness, she says, but anything's possible with youth on your side. Maura knows, too, that it's a cliche to say it, but she believes it's more difficult to be young now; that the 1990s, in retrospect, were relatively innocent times. "We'd have been sacked if there were camera phones back then," Maura says.
"Image is much more important now," she adds. "You could be who you were then. People had different styles, and they were allowed. Now, there's a uniform, and they all look the same. We were uncouth; we were like wild beasts. We didn't know how to pose for a photo, we were only there at events for the free booze. You're judged now on appearance rather than personality. There were plenty of girls who weren't the best looking, but they were the crack. They were exciting and they could hold an audience. It's like John B Keane or something - if you could hold an audience and be the crack, that was enough. You were allowed individuality."
Does Maura miss the crack, I wonder, now that she's a sensible married woman and mother? She doesn't really, she explains, crave it now. She hasn't the energy, what with a small child and a daily TV show. Not to mention that, for the most part, she lives in Dungarvan with her husband and said small child, commuting daily to Cork, where Today is based. Also, though, Maura says, you stop wanting those mad times. She never thought it would happen, but it does and it has.
"Ah, the crack diminishes as you age," Maura says. "I never thought I'd say that, but it's true. I mean, are you crazy? Especially when you think you're the most exciting person who ever lived. I mean, I am the crack. I am it!
"But that's life," she says, the laugh fading. "I look now and realise how funny it was when my three sisters, my cousins from Mayo, Fiona and Sharon, and my cousin from the UK, Jackie, and I were the gang in the summer on Aran, and we'd look at my mother, and she was only in her 40s, and we used to think it as so sad that they were only going to the pub and we were going to the disco.
"How could you be happy with going to the pub and sitting down and talking, while we were going to the disco and the ceili and out till two? But now I realise that they were out and having the crack, and I'm their age now and, well, at least they were going out. I'm not even doing that any more!"
But they had relatively independent teenagers at that stage, I point out, while you have a toddler who still needs you and drains you 24/7.
As a woman who had her child in her 40s, Maura is well aware of that, of course. There are no regrets on that score, though. She believes, firmly, that she wouldn't be where she is in her career had she had a child in her 20s or even 30s. Also, Maura adds, for the longest time she believed she was too young for grown-up things like marriage and motherhood. She had serious relationships, but she never thought she was ready for marriage. What changed, I ask.
"I suppose you meet the right person," she says of John, whom she married in 2005. "But I don't think I would have been able to settle if I hadn't had the wild times. I wasn't a natural settler. I was 35 when I got married, but even getting married, I thought I was too young."
Of course, Maura adds, she and John then had nine years of marriage before having Cal, which is the thing that really makes you grow up. They had a ball in those nine years, she says, both with good jobs, they did plenty of travelling and were relatively free.
"We had to cop on very quickly once a child is there," she says, "and that can be hard on a marriage, when you're used to just suiting yourself. I think John and I never had a row before we had Cal, but then it became all about who did what."
Maura says she's terrible for keeping score. Not that she'd change any of it for the world, of course. She believes that there's no point in wondering if life would have been different if she'd settled down and had children earlier. There'll be no more babies in the Derrane-Deasy house, "unless one is dropped at my door" and, in years to come, she'll be recruiting her nephew Ethan for family holidays.
"Of course there are pros to having your kids when you're 25," Maura says. "I can see the advantages to that - you have energy, you can cope with the lack of sleep. But when you're in your 40s, you are more wise and you are less worried about what other people are telling you. I think when you hit 40, you think, 'to hell with everyone else'. Not in a bitchy way, but you can stand up for yourself for the first time. As a woman, you don't give a hoot what people think. You are comfortable in yourself."
Maura seems very comfortable in herself. She is comfortable as Island Maura, but also City Maura, TV Maura, Mammy Maura. Work is going well, and she sees the new earlier 3.30pm start to the daily Today show as a vote of confidence in her and in Daithi. She and he, she laughs, became very bonded through the experience of first-time parenthood in their 40s. "I'd be lost without him beside me on the couch now," she says. "I've been very lucky with Daithi.
"But then," she adds, "I have really been very lucky. I've had a great old run of it. Between the cartwheels in Renards and the family and the job, I can't really complain."
'Today with Maura and Daithi' is at 3.30pm, Monday-Friday, RTE One
Photography by Kip Carroll
Styling by Liadan Hynes