Impressive opener from an Eamon Dunphy of two halves
The Rocky Road, by Eamon Dunphy
Eamon Dunphy signing autographs for young fans outside his club Millwall’s ground in 1970. Photograph: Hulton Archive
The first thing I did when this book passed into my hands was what I expect many readers will do. I turned to the index to discover who gets a namecheck. Jack Charlton is in there, naturally enough. And so are Bono, Matt Busby, Charlie Haughey, Michel Platini, Dermot Morgan, George Best and Vincent Browne. But there’s no Roy Keane. No Denis O’Brien, Michelle Smith de Bruin, Owen O’Callaghan, Proinsias de Rossa, Pat Kenny or Bertie Ahern.
Although it doesn’t say it on the jacket, The Rocky Road is volume one of Eamon Dunphy’s autobiography, taking us up to the summer of 1990, when he became, for a few weeks at least, Ireland’s public enemy number one.
Presumably, a sequel will follow at some point in the near future. And the more pages of this book you turn, the more the realisation dawns that, rightly enough, Dunphy’s story is too good to try to shoehorn into a single volume. In the parlance of the game, the first half has to be described as an absolute cracker.
At 68, Dunphy is no longer the fire-breathing iconoclast of his younger days or even the self-described highly paid boot boy of his middle years. The decades have worn the hard edges off the public’s feeling for the man who, during the febrile weeks of Italia 90, lived in fear of being publicly lynched. Nowadays, Dunphy is generally liked, even loved.
The fear with this book was that, by the time he got around to committing it to print, it would be the account of a man looking back on the span of his life with a world view leavened by age. Thankfully, it’s not. The Rocky Road bristles with all the rancorous energy and righteous anger that made Dunphy the most important and the most interesting media commentator of his age.
It doesn’t take more than a dozen pages to get a handle on the forces that shaped his personality. His parents, Paddy and Peg Dunphy, were proud and formidable country people. Peg went to the Four Courts to contest an attempt to evict the family from their tiny Drumcondra home, which had no electricity and where they slept on the floor. She won. Paddy was a devotee of Noel Browne with a profound sense of social justice, who made himself unemployable in the building trade by refusing to join Fianna Fáil but kept his pride despite spending years in “the shuffling shame” of the dole queue.
As a boy, Dunphy was sexually molested by a neighbour, although he denies that it had any formative effective on him. Later, he writes with surprising restraint about Fr James McNamee, the paedophile priest and football coach, objecting to the media characterisation of him as “a monster”.
Dunphy spent his childhood between the local dump, where he played football, the library, where he discovered Just William, and the kitchen, where he was a voracious reader of newspapers. He was a boy with a questing intelligence, who grew up with “an enduring sense of being different”. He had no strong sense of Irishness – or, rather, the “shabby narrative” of Irish nationalism left him cold. He hated Amhrán na bhFiann, even as he lined out for it years later, with, as he saw it, its glorification of violence and its articulation of a virulent anti-Englishness. Leaving the country that de Valera created to play football in England was like escaping “a pantomime prison”.