Thursday 19 April 2018

Eugene Moloney

Brian Farrell remembers the larger than life journalist, and the day they kidnapped legendary actor Oliver Reed

It was very strange last week saying the name Eugene Moloney without a smile coming to my face. Something I had never managed to do for nearly 30 years.

Eugene was the eternal student who not only worked to live but loved the work he did. We soldiered together so many times during our stay with Independent Newspapers in the Eighties and Nineties, where I worked as a photographer.

We were hardy annuals at the Galway Arts Festival, Slane rock concerts, and U2 tours, but also regulars in Belfast and Derry covering the Troubles. After filing copy and pictures, even in the dark Eighties when most of Belfast was a car park, he would lead me to the funkiest restaurants where we would wine and dine in great company for half nothing.

We were together in Milltown Cemetery in 1988 when Michael Stone killed three mourners and injured many more during a hand grenade and gun attack at the funeral of three IRA activists shot in Gibraltar. I remember when we finally got back from the mayhem to the Belfast office to file, the then Northern Editor John Devine shouting from his desk, "Get on them phones quick and tell your mothers you're alright." We weren't expecting that! But it was very apt because anyone who knew Eugene well, knew how fond he was of his mother.

I also remember he had this very odd theory that the 25 quid bottle of French wine in the night club Suesey Street was much better value than the house wine for 17 quid! "Aye but," he would say at the end of every sentence of my losing argument. And the thing that puzzled him most in life, and normally around 5am, was: what did Van Morrison mean by "Whatever happened to Tuesday and so slow" in Brown Eyed Girl?

But my most memorable experience with Eugene was the day in 1990 when we kidnapped Oliver Reed. The raucous actor was guest of honour at the Galway Film Fleadh, but his public appearance would be too late for our deadline so we decided to nab him as he arrived at Galway Airport. At the airport we spotted the fleadh's greeting party for Reed and, rightly or wrongly, decided that once they got their hands on him we would be done for, so Eugene suggested we slip through security, on to the tarmac, and get him before he hit arrivals. I told him not to be so bloody ridiculous, but moments later we found ourselves outside hiding in a doorway, awaiting touch down.

Long after the other passengers had disembarked, the burly drunken figure of Oliver Reed bundled down the steps with a male companion half his size. Eugene headed for Reed, arms outstretched like a long-lost friend and failtes and blarney flowing from his lips. The actor was delighted to be met by such a fun committee.

As we waited for his luggage Eugene got a biography of an interview. Reed discovered that his luggage was lost and lay on the conveyor belt in protest, much to my delight because I now had a picture to compliment what was going to be a great piece of copy.

Eventually Reed decided to give up his protest and announced he wanted to go to the pub. Eugene looked at me, I looked at the real greeting party out in arrivals, we said "feck it", slipped him out a side door, folded him and his companion into my car and headed for town. We were hardly in the door of the pub when he ripped off his shirt (Reed, that is), buttons popping everywhere (a trick best left 'til last thing at night), and started reciting Shakespeare, his preferred means of communicating for the evening.

The next morning Eugene decided we should nip up to the hotel and get him while he was sober (Reed, that is). As we strolled along the seafront, with Eugene displaying his unique 6ft 4in gait to all of Salthill and greeting passers-by merrily, we spotted the Irish Independent with his story accompanied by the pic of Reed lying on the conveyor belt. We immediately galloped up to the Ardilaun Hotel in an effort to get to him before the paper did.

We shouldn't have worried. He was still in bed, refusing to get out as his luggage had still not arrived (and his shirt had no buttons) and, "yes", said the receptionist, his friend Eugene and the annoying little man with the camera should come to his bedroom directly.

Eugene got his "In bed with Oliver Reed" interview, the next day's page one story in the Indo, and I got the pic of him in bed wearing nothing but his glasses (Reed, that is). In the end we overstayed our welcome and Reed jumped out of bed, bare butt naked, and we made a hasty retreat.

It breaks my heart to think of Eugene, who survived more scrapes than I will ever know of and who spent his life in search of good company, dying alone on a Dublin street at what was possibly his favourite time of day.

My thoughts are with those who loved him.

Sunday Independent

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