When John Waters met Eamon Dunphy
Dunphy opens up about his many personas, disappointing his parents, how he broke down in tears after finding himself on the outside during the Charlton era, and the modern journalistic ‘wasteland’
Eamon Dunphy: ‘I think the mob are always wrong, so it’s not hard to be a contrarian if you’re true to your own passion, your own intellect.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne Eamon Dunphy: ‘I think the mob are always wrong, so it’s not hard to be a contrarian if you’re true to your own passion, your own intellect.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The last time I’d met Eamon Dunphy was last August, when we had been booked on the same TV3 show. He and I have had our ups and downs, but have maintained an entente cordiale now for more than a decade. For several years he’d been telling me that he was writing his life story, which he had said he would call “Wrong About Everything”.
On encountering him in TV3, I asked him how the book was going. He said I was in it – the second volume, which doesn’t come out until next year – because of my membership of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), although he had got it mixed up with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI).
I was appointed to the broadcasting commission by Dermot Ahern, then minister for communications, in 2002. Ahern, whom I’d met casually on two or three occasions, said I was being appointed because of an article I’d written about a particular decision of the commission.
But Dunphy confided a different version of my appointment to the commission. Shortly before the appointment, he had attended a brunch in the Dublin 4 home of the developer Sean Dunne.
Bertie Ahern, then taoiseach, had been at the brunch, and Dunphy claimed he had suggested that the government might “do something” for me. (It was the weekend in 2002 over which I’d been briefly fired from The Irish Times, having made some adverse public comments about the then editor and the remuneration of senior executives.) According to Dunphy, Bertie had said he’d see what could be done.
This story (which I have been unable to verify but have no reason to doubt) tells us a few things about Dunphy. First, he’s the kind of guy who was invited to brunches in the homes of controversial developers. Second, he was on intimate terms with senior politicians, who sometimes acted on his proposals. Third, Dunphy, like most of us, sometimes gets things mixed up.
But at the heart of the story is an insight into Dunphy that explains why he’s held in such affection in Irish life, in spite of innumerable controversies, outrages and travails. There was no obligation on him to ask Bertie to “do something” for me, but he did it because he is prone to gratuitous acts of impulsiveness and kindness.
The story also provides a hint of the element of danger that always hangs around Dunphy. He is volatile, capricious, fickle, with a predilection for stirring things. But there’s also a softness to him that makes him difficult to dislike and easy to forgive. Despite our ups and downs, we remain friendly, even if sometimes the only evidence is the friendly fire.
No hint of ideology
There’s a quality about Dunphy that is all but unique in Irish journalism: the quality of affection. By this I don’t mean loyalty or sentimentality, but something deeper. It has to do with how he decides about things, people, situations. There isn’t a hint of ideology in his make-up. Every conviction has been filtered through his experience, emotions and basic instincts.
Whereas most people claim to decide things on the basis of logic and empirical evidence, Dunphy acts on a combination of head, heart and gut. His responses are reasonable, but in a bigger, more extravagant way. If sometimes he appears to be inconsistent, it’s because he is – like the way he has often railed against Fianna Fáilers and yet enjoys their company far better than that of the people he would vote for.
He quotes Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”