Though not quite your average happily-married couple, Matt Murphy (83) and Michael O'Sullivan (59) are just as content after their one year of wedded bliss to date as any.
On December 22nd last year, the two men, who have been close friends for almost 30 years, got married at the registry office on Dublin’s Grand Canal Street to avoid tax.
O’Sullivan had been married before but divorced and has three adult children. It was Murphy’s first marriage. “I was a confirmed old bachelor and a fussy sort of person,” he said.
O’Sullivan has been acting as Murphy’s carer in recent years.
Both worked at Eircom, Murphy as a telephonist and O'Sullivan – who is now an actor – as a computer technician. The bank took O'Sullivan's apartment during the recession and Murphy, who had lived on his own for 50 years, asked him to move in with him in Dublin's Stoneybatter as his own health and sight were failing.
They married to avoid inheritance tax. “As I said to Joe [Duffy] on the radio, it was a business arrangement, nothing more, which it was,” O’Sullivan recalled.
Former minister for justice and attorney general Michael McDowell told The Irish Times last year that their marriage was “perfectly lawful”.
Murphy believes the marriage “was the best thing I ever did. I’d be in a home. I’m almost blind now, completely. I’m 84 in July and sometimes I feel a 100.”
His general health is “not too bad I suppose for my age. If I panic at all the brain goes into a spin. Once the brain is calm I can cope with anything. Now Michael is afraid I’ll fall.”
As for O’Sullivan, he said “nothing much has changed” over the past year.
There had been “loads of reaction” to their marriage around the world, from America to China. “There’s a film-maker making a feature-length documentary. Donal Moloney, he’s delving into our past.”
RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy sent them limited edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses as a wedding present while poet Thomas Kinsella sent a signed copy of a book of his poetry. They were also invited to an event in the Mansion House last May, held to mark Kinsella’s 90th birthday.
All reaction to the marriage was positive, except for newspaper columnist David Quinn. “He’s a very staunch conservative Catholic. He said that he predicted this. That was the only one. Only the other night there was this man at Lidl who said ‘Jesus I saw ye last year, well done again.’”
Theirs is a most mixed marriage. “We’re Protestant and Catholic,” said O’Sullivan.
“I dig with the other foot,” said Murphy, who is from a Protestant background. As to whether he is gay, Murphy said: “Well, I was in my early days. I had a relationship with another Tipperary man. Again it was more of a brotherly thing. He came down to visit me every weekend.”
Concerning this same gender, homosexual-heterosexual arrangement, O’ Sullivan said: “It was just taken that it was heterosexual. People asked me and I said ‘Yes, I am’. They never asked Matt.”
Murphy is worried about the house. “I am a clutterer, a hoarder. And I’m just ashamed of the house. And I would love to ask people in for a cup of tea.”
When it was suggested they might call in the team from RTÉ’s Home Rescue programme to deal with the clutter, O’Sullivan said they are “thinking about it”.
Then there is the haunting. “The other thing is the house is haunted. We had a spiritualist up the other day, finally. The kitchen, the new part of the house is haunted. He felt something when he came in,” says Murphy.
“About five years ago Matt was in the house one day and he got the smell of gas. He hadn’t been using any gas so we rang the gas company and they came out and checked and said there was nothing wrong.
“Then we heard a woman next door died of gas inhalation. This was about 30 years ago. We don’t know whether it was accidental or suicide. But he [the spiritualist] said he could feel the presence of that person. He was a shaman who lives locally here,” says O’Sullivan.
And they met President Michael D Higgins during the year. “Matt was always laughing and saying ‘I want to meet the President’. During the Stoneybatter Festival [last summer] Joe Costello, was a local [Labour Party] TD. So we invited the President down to say a few words and of course in the blazing summer we had, the place was jammed.”
President Higgins arrived and “made a speech and then he went on a walkabout. I had Matt sitting outside one of the cafes and I said ‘Come on. He’s coming’.
“So we went over and had our photograph taken with him. But as he’s walking away one of his aides said to him ‘They are the two lads who got married for tax reasons’. He turned round and he put his arms around Matt. He gave him a hug and said ‘Congratulations’.”
Murphy was clear, “It made my day.”
As a young man, he had “trained to be a butler, a gentleman’s gentleman, at a big country mansion. English people and it was a bit like Downton Abbey. Now it wasn’t as big, but with that attitude. In Tipperary, between Thurles and Cashel.”
He had been an only child. “I had nobody to play with,” he says.
“I came into the world under a big black cloud unwanted in a Protestant family.” His mother was single and it was 1935.
“Scandal,” was the response, he says. “I don’t know who my father is. My best friend had suggested it was one of the gentry. I don’t think so. But I grew up with that situation so I’m inclined to be a little bit grand.”
O’Sullivan added “he looked after his grandparents. Then he looked after his mother, bought her a house. When the grandparents died Matt moved to Dublin. His mother eventually married but her husband died and they had no other children. Matt bought her a small little house in Cashel. Matt looked after all his family really and now I’m looking after him.”
His mother “was just like me. She loved people,” recalled Murphy. “I’m a people person. I love people, I always did, and as I got older I made more friends by speaking to them, because you are another human being to me. The Queen of England would be the same, his holiness the pope, they are human beings.
“Having grown up with the gentry, which you didn’t have to bow and scrape to but you had to hold your position. It was awfully grand in those days. It was a strange setting out in the country,” he says.
O’Sullivan was born on Benburb Street in Dublin. Since retiring from Eircom he has done some acting with the Dublin Lyric Players. “I’ve been an amateur actor since I was 28 so I said I’d have a go at it full time,” he said.
In 2016 he toured Ireland playing James Connolly with them in Pull Down a Horseman by Eugene McCabe. It was written in 1966 for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
It was staged privately that year at Áras an Uachtaráin at the request of President Higgins.
As well as the President and Sabina Higgins, McCabe attended, as did "about 50 people there, the staff, gardeners. It was one of the best days of my life," says O'Sullivan.
So clearly this marriage is working?
“Oh yes,” replies Murphy. “We would recommend it. People, men or women, they get lonely on their own. Most people, unless they’re very strange.”