Marty Morrissey: ‘In America the older you get, the more valued you are. In Ireland, at 65 it’s like you have to say adios’

Marty Morrissey: ‘In America the older you get, the more valued you are. In Ireland, at 65 it’s like you have to say adios’

Alas, there will be no Marty party. At least not like the one he had envisaged.

Marty Morrissey has emceed a lot of book launches in his time, like the lavish, groundbreaking affair he put on for Ger Loughnane 20 years ago this very week in their native Clare, but the other day he made the call to cancel his own for the third and final time, thanks to that biggest of party-poopers called Covid.

It’s a pity because he had quite the guest list lined up. Joe Brolly may have once infamously insulted him on national television but they patched all that up within days and the Derry man was going to be there to help plug the book for him. And it would have been a chance to meet up with a lot of old friends — plenty you’ve heard of and plenty that you haven’t — and share a few laughs with them, including some at his own expense.

In recent weeks he came across an old VHS tape from his days working in Cork Multi-Channel that he was going to show, including a segment where he was the de facto Pat Kenny or Brian Farrell, anchoring an 1989 general election debate between Fine Gael’s Bernard Allen, Kathleen Lynch of the then Workers Party, and a young Fianna Fáil candidate called Micheál Martin hoping to be elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time.

God, the state of them. The youth of them. Looking back on it, Marty felt he did okay but the three candidates had torn strips off each other and at the time he had expected some bad blood would continue off air.

But then Allen acknowledged that fair play, young Mícheál, I can see how you’re the son of a boxer with those two good digs you got in. Martin in turn acknowledged that the wily veteran had wrong-footed him at least once with his ringcraft before Lynch told them to finish with their little mutual admiration society, that she’d won by a unanimous decision and the pair of them were the two greatest bullshitters in Irish politics.

Their laughter didn’t end there. In fact it was only starting.

With Marty about, what other way could the night go? And so, a bit like the No Man’s Land truce of 1914, the three candidates agreed to postpone hostilities for one evening and retire with the debate anchor to the Anchor Bar on George’s Quay where they shared toasted ham sandwiches between feeds of pints.

Well, the others drank. Morrissey didn’t. Never has.

“Drink just isn’t for me,” he writes in his enjoyable, yarn-loaded book, It’s Marty (published by Penguin Sandycove).

“I’m not against it but I never developed a taste for alcohol. Maybe being a publican’s son during those vital teenage years was a factor… But am I anti-drink? Absolutely not.”

So that’s how he rolls. Loves pubs, just not alcohol. “And I still love socialising,” he says when you chat with him over zoom.

“Mario (Rosenstock) and Oliver (Callan) probably got it right without knowing it, because while I don’t drink I’m the last one out of the pub, bringing the lads home. I love mixing with people.”

Indeed, he’ll go further: He has a need to mix with and befriend people.

He’s the only son of an only daughter and an only son and is well familiar with what loneliness can do.

His grandfather Paddy Morrissey, a veteran of the War of Independence, would spend some time Stateside like his own son and grandson that came after him but returned to the remote plains of west Clare where he farmed 30 acres of poor land. His greatest companion was a fine mare they all called Grey Fanny, including Paddy’s besotted grandson Marty whenever he was over from America on a summer holiday.

“I used to love that horse and the sound of the hoofs on the road and the way my grandfather would have the reins in his fingertips as she strolled behind him. My grandfather used to wear this great wide-rimmed flat hat to cover his balding head and just as we’d be coming to the half-door of the house Grey Fanny used to grab it with her teeth and toss it gently to my grandmother.

“She died one St Patrick’s Day, and the following All Saint’s Day, so did my grandfather, on the back of a horse and trap in the haybarn. The poor man was suffering from a broken heart.

“And of course that left poor Grey Fanny all by herself. For the first few days, she had grazed peacefully in her field. But then she started to go berserk.

“Every day you could hear her whining, almost crying. Jerry O’Connor, the local vet who God help him was killed by a bull years later, said to my father to go get my grandfather’s hat hanging in the old house.

“So my father brought it down to the horse and she took it in her mouth and went back down the field. The whining had stopped, she seemed at peace again.

“The following morning there was no sign or sound of Grey Fanny. My father went down to the corner of the field and there was the poor horse dead with the hat lying beside her head. She’d been born on that land. All she’d known was that land and my grandfather.”

Martin Morrissey, like his son and namesake that came after him, had not wanted the same fate for himself, but that streak of independence didn’t always sit well with Paddy.

For years there was no communication between them.

“I’d often compare my grandfather to the Bull McCabe,” says Marty.

“While he murdered no one, thanks be to God, the land was everything to him. It was fair enough when my father went teaching in Mallow after he had done his Leaving Cert — hardly anyone went to college in those days — but when he announced he and his wife were going to America, my grandfather was very upset because he thought his only son would ultimately take up the land.

“While writing the book, I found a letter my grandmother wrote to my father. It was in beautiful, old-fashioned handwriting, with a couple of paragraphs in Gaeilge.

And in it she basically said: ‘Your father is doing okay but he misses you terribly.’ But my father had that sense of adventure and I suppose I got some of it from him.”

Martin would eventually return to Clare with his wife upon seeing a pub in the village of Quilty was for sale and the prospect that his son, who was now approaching secondary school age, could be later drafted to Vietnam where there seemed no end to the war.

Marty Morrissey interviews Niamh McEvoy during the Dublin senior football teams’ homecoming after their 2019 All-Ireland victories. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

For young Marty, each side of the Atlantic Ocean that he often looked out upon had its charms and challenges.

In New York the only real place he could play with other kids was in Gaelic Park on Sundays at half-time in the big games; it wasn’t like you can hang with your classmates after school, not in late 1960s early 1970s New York when even an adult wouldn’t venture on their own to Times Square.

In Quilty, in contrast, there were neighbours he could cajole to join in with him in the games of football he’d instigate on the green, but on windy winter nights it’d often just be him by himself, looking out on the ocean, wondering whether that solitary ship along the horizon was Irish or Spanish and heading up to Galway.

After college he landed a job teaching in a local school, and threw himself into coaching the local teams, but while he loved both with a passion, he had a sense he had to move to where the lights were brighter.

While he loved coaching and teaching there at 27, he didn’t want to feel stuck there at 47.

Those brighter lights came in the form of Cork which he’d abandon his pensionable safe job for to take up a lowly-paid media gig.

He’d got the broadcasting bug from commentating an U21 county football final for a video the local club, Kilmurry-Ibrickane, were shooting and successfully applied for a job in Cork Multichannel that his father had seen in the paper.

It was a general reporter and presenter, covering news and current affairs with a light touch. His first day in the job he covered the arrival of the QE2 cruiser into Cobh.

A couple of months later Michael Jackson came to town with his Bad tour and while Marty couldn’t secure an interview with the man himself he did manage one with his support act, Kim Wilde, whose beauty and charm impressed him but still wasn’t quite Audrey Hepburn who he’d have the honour of meeting the following year.

That’s something that’s often missed about Morrissey: He hasn’t branched out from sport late in his career; instead he’s just gone back to how and where he started out. He didn’t start out specialising in sport.

I suppose I wanted to be Micheal O’Hehir or Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh but you’d have had to wait and wait (for an opening like theirs) so you had to say: ‘Well, I must do something else then.’ And there was also an innate desire to do other things. I didn’t want to be one-trick pony.”

Besides, if sport had been it, he’d have been back teaching within a couple of years. Early on the powers-that-be didn’t rate him. He’d plague them and they’d keep rejecting him.

In August 1985, the same month Ger Canning commentated his first All-Ireland semi-final after the great O’Hehir became ill, Morrissey was bluntly informed by letter that from the tapes they had heard of him that they did “not see much possibility of our using you in the foreseeable future”.

But he persisted, continuing to do commentaries for the likes of the LGFA and their All-Ireland ladies football finals on the request of their then PRO, Helen O’Rourke. (“I asked her at the All-Stars last weekend how come she chose me and Paschal Brooks (cameraman). And she said: ‘Because ye were

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