Bono and Paul Muldoon get personal about their fathers

At a strange and startling event in Dalkey, the U2 frontman remembers his father telling him he had cancer

It was an unusual Father’s Day, listening to U2 frontman Bono and poet Paul Muldoon getting deep into conversation as they nursed two pints and a glass of whiskey at a corner table in Finnegan’s of Dalkey.

With the help of some clip mics and cameras, the Dalkey Book Festival treated several dozen eavesdroppers to deeply personal ruminations between the two men down in Bono’s local.

They talked about their fathers, their writing and how they were at their creative best in the early mornings. Two Fathers, Two Friends, they called the chat, and it was a treat to overhear.

For the first time in public, Bono read from his memoir Surrender, giving the small pre-noon Sunday crowd a taste of his upcoming book of 40 chapters, each named after a U2 song, that will be published by Penguin Random House in November.

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The Dubliner devised the book as if approaching a set list for a U2 gig, with each song title serving as a short story, he said. There was a “final arc — if anyone makes it to the end”, he joked.

“I have gone off the subject of the memoir myself — I have never been more bored with the person — but all the other characters are brilliant,” the singer told Muldoon.

It being Father’s Day, the singer painted a bright portrait of his late father, Bob Hewson, and their complicated relationship in his readings from the book.

“Anything strange or startling?” was his taciturn father’s usual opening over his usual order, a glass of Bushmills Black Bush, at their usual table at midday on Sundays in Finnegan’s.

The Hewsons’ chosen table wasn’t in a snug, closed off from the pub, but in a place that drew them closer: “A long way from a snuggle, but hey, we were all working on being men now,” he wrote.

“We stare at each other,” the singer says, reading from his book, mapping out one of the Sunday encounters with his father from 1999 from the chapter Beautiful Day.

“Bob is going through some personal stuff that he is here not to talk about. He is also not well. I did not know how not well.”

Bono told the story of introducing his father, standing at the mixing desk at a U2 gig in Texas, and the crowd responding with a roar “like a 747 taking off over his head”. He recalled his father later paying him a rare compliment backstage after the show.

“ ‘You’re very professional,’ he says professionally,” Bono recalls, his father holding out a hand.

That day in Finnegan’s in 1999, the rock star turned his father’s question back on him for the first time.

“Anything strange or startling?” Bono asked.

“‘I have cancer,’ he deadpanned.”

A sip of whiskey helped the singer read through the rest of the difficult memory.

Sitting at the same table, Bono told Muldoon how he really came to understand his father from all those Sunday meetings in Finnegan’s “by just sitting here and not talking”.

Muldoon remembered his own cauliflower-growing father from Co Armagh — “had things worked out, he would have been a farmer” — and how the two men hardly ever hugged. It was a different generation, he said.

“It just wasn’t something we did. I regretted that I didn’t quite get to that point. We definitely loved each other,” he said.

In what Muldoon called their “mutual admiration society”, he praised Bono and U2 for not resting on their laurels through the years, recalling Yeats’s creative drive: “Myself I must remake.”

The singer said he liked Van Morrison’s early “great compliment” of U2 as a work in progress: “They’ll be great when they’re finished.”

“It is true and one day it won’t be true and that’s the end,” said Bono.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times