Dear Dad: Irish sons write letters to the 'auld fella' for Father's Day

To mark Father’s Day, Ruth O’Connor asks celebrities to write a letter to their dads. The emotional results reveal the incredible bond between Irish fathers and their sons.

Darren and Michael Kennedy. Picture: Kieran Hartnett

DARREN KENNEDY

Fashion designer, TV presenter, and all-round Irish style icon, Darren Kennedy, has just launched his second Darren Kennedy Recommends eyewear collection, with Specsavers, and continues his partnership as the brand’s official style ambassador.

Dear Dad, I bet you never thought I’d be writing you a letter in a national newspaper, but I wanted to thank you for inspiring in me my love of travel and adventure.

It’s not unusual for me to hop on a plane two or three times a week these days, and I think I got that from you.

Remember when I was just going on 14 years of age and had been studying French at secondary school and begged you to let me go on a student exchange?

You flew with me to London and, from there, I flew to Lyon, thinking I was all grown-up, to meet my exchange family, who were lovely. But in the car, on the way to their home, I realised my French was fairly basic schoolbook material.

Every night, the mother of the family would let me phone home and I’d say everything was great. And then I’d ‘go for a walk’, phone back, reverse the charges, and bawl crying to you and Mam.

You offered to pay for a flight home the next day, every day, but, in the end, I stuck it out and stayed three weeks.

You helped instil in me a different world view — one which encouraged me to study at university, in Bordeaux, and to live in Paris. Soon, you and I will go on our first trip, just the two of us, back to France, to Lourdes, where your own father is buried. I’m looking forward to spending time together and visiting somewhere very important to you.

My love of travel is just one of the many things yourself and Mam instilled in me over the years. You gave me values, when I was a child, that I carry with me to this day — like how to treat people properly and how to engage with people. I know it seems like I have taken you for granted sometimes, so I just wanted to say ‘Thanks Dad’.

Love, Darren.

PAUL COSTELLOE

Designer Paul Costelloe is one of the most recognisable names on the fashion scene. His company is still family-owned and produces a number of collaborative ranges with Dunnes Stores and a line of jewellery which includes The Phoenix Collection by Paul Costelloe — available from stockists nationwide and online at paulcostelloejewellery.com

Dear Dad,

Being the youngest of seven, I feel we got on well, since I always cooked a special tea on Saturday evenings, so that I could borrow the keys of your car at the old age of seventeen.

Also, of course, I cut the grass in the back garden, paying particular attention to the croquet lawn. I was the only one in the family that made you milk gravy over your Saturday evening fry-up.

Seriously, you worked very hard, particularly in your factory in Rathmines, where you would pick up, in the parcel shipping area, any string that was abandoned and join it all up, saying ‘waste not want not’.

Employment in Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s was very limited. You were very proud to be giving work to over a hundred people in difficult times.

I wish you had stopped smoking Sweet Afton Untipped cigarettes sooner.

You might be still alive today and able to celebrate my reasonable success.

I loved your magic hands, which I, fortunately, inherited, so with just a touch we could tell the fibre content a particular material had.

When I walked with you into the Munster & Leinster Bank, now AIB, on Dame Street, you would tip your fedora hat to all the ladies behind the oak counters and I smiled with admiration.

You were a real charmer. On Saturdays, when the rugby internationals were playing at full blast on the radio, you would get very stressed, as, having played for Old Belvedere Rugby, you knew it all. Unfortunately, I seem to remember that we lost more than we won.

Dad, through all the good times and bad times, we managed to stay together as a family. I always kissed you on your rough cheek, as you would not buy new blades for your twist-handle Gillette razor.

You would love all my sons and I know Jessica would be a special granddaughter to you.

That’s life,

No. 7, Paul.

FERGUS FINLAY

Fergus Finlay in the middle with his mother Lilian Roberts Finlay, his father Hugo and his two siblings — twin sister Finola and brother Hugo.

Fergus Finlay is the chief executive of children’s charity, Barnardos. He works tirelessly for the rights of children and is a weekly columnist with this paper.

Dad, It was only when I was asked to write this piece that I realised you’re gone from our lives more than 33 years. Your last two sons, Hugo and I, would have enjoyed cajoling you out for a pint on Father’s Day. But we’ll, maybe, have one in your honour, anyway.

It might have been a long time ago, but, honestly, never a day goes by without you flashing into my head. ‘What would Dad think of this?’ I wonder, or ‘wouldn’t Dad be pleased’. You’d have a slew of great-grandchildren now, if you were still around, as well as the grandson who carries your name. The most recent great-grandchild only arrived a month or so ago, and I thought of you in Holles Street, the first time I held him.

I know I never told you, but I’ve been grateful all my life for the way you protected me when I was a kid (you know what I’m talking about), and more for the things you taught me. I’ve done a huge amount of writing over the years, and I’ve always tried to copy your style. I still have some of the things you wrote, and maybe someday I’ll get them into something publishable. But I loved that light touch you had — even the business reports were written in a really readable, conversational style — nothing literary, but the kind of writing that made an impact.

But, actually, much more than that — and this is something else I never told you — you taught me everything I’ve always needed to know about character. You were a steadfast man. It wasn’t until after you died that we came to realise some of the weights you carried, but you carried them with dignity. I never heard you recriminate, or say anything hurtful or disloyal about some of the reasons you carried burdens, even though you had cause enough to do so.

Instead, what I remember, and always will, is your humour, your quiet wit, your grin. The fact that you always had time, when we needed it. The fact that you always made it clear that you were there to support us in whatever we wanted to do, but never pass judgement.

Finola, Aoibhinn, Hugo, and I all miss you still, in our own ways. It sounds like an awful thing to say, but I’ve dined out many times about the way, in the end, you wrote your own script. A couple of hours pottering around your beloved garden in the morning, a pint at lunchtime in your favourite pub, and then you dropped dead on the 16th tee in Royal Tara Golf Club — just as you drew level in your 4-ball match. It was the only way to go, and I’ve always found great pleasure in the thought that a man whose life was bound up with the needs of others chose his own way to leave. And, by the way, hundreds of your friends gave you an unforgettable wake.

I hope you got to finish that 4-ball in some celestial golf-course. I’ve always been proud to say you were my Dad, and I always will be.

Fergus

FRED COOKE

Fred Cooke is fast-becoming one of Ireland’s premier funny men, known for his hilarious musical comedy style and boundless energy.

Having supported Tommy Tiernan on his nationwide tour this year, Cooke takes his own brand of comedy on the road this autumn, with his show, ‘Fredliner’. For more information, see www.lisarichards.ie.

Dear Dad,

It’s really great spending time with you, as well as Mam. I don’t know a nicer man. You’ve always been there for me.

I think my earliest memory of you was in Rockfield estate, in Kells, 1983. I was three. There was a loud thunderstorm throughout the night. I remember you coming into my room to pick me up, singing the theme from Superman. Instantly, the fear left me.

Any child will demand attention from their parents. It’s fair to say that I got any amount of that. You were forever picking me up, especially when I got cantankerous, lying on a country footpath, saying ‘I’m not able to walk’. You mention these walks in your first book of published poems, Berry Time.

Saturday, Late May.

I walk with Frederick, almost three

Past hedgerows where last month’s primroses

Have fallen to heavy dock, nettles and long grass.

There is peace in the cool air.

I can honestly never remember any tension between us. You never raised your voice to us. Once, in my teenage years, I roared at you with anger, and then went to my room crying, as I was so annoyed with myself. You are so relaxed. I think my sister (Johanna) gets her calmness from you.

When I was learning to drive, you took it on yourself to bravely sit in the passenger seat, as, on a provisional, I needed to have someone with a full license. This allowed me to spend more time with you and I’d like to think we had a great laugh in doing so. We could chat forever. The older I get, the more I realise how funny you are.

Three years ago, we spent the day at the Body & Soul Festival, where you saw my show.Every St. Stephen’s Day, for the past four years, we spend time my brother Tim, in McGee’s pub, watching the football.

I look forward to this more than Christmas Day itself. And I haven’t a clue about football.

It seems more important than ever for children to have positive role models in their lives. For me, you have always been a brilliant role model. I’m blessed to have a father like you.

Love, Fred.

PAUL HARRINGTON

Musician Paul Harrington is best-known for winning the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland. He performed ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Kids’ with Charlie McGettigan. On July 29, he headlines the Malahide Has It festival in Dublin. Commencing soon is Paul’s new series, A Brief History of the Irish Ballad, on the ‘Pat Kenny Show’ on Newstalk radio. In October, Paul will release an album of new songs, recorded live at Dublin’s Sugar Club. On October 12, he appears at the National Concert Hall, in an event celebrating the work of Brendan Graham.

Dear Daddy,

“It’s been a while. Christmas 1999, wow — last century, that makes it sound even longer. It’s a funny thing, though. The longer you’re gone, the stronger your presence has become in my life. I suppose what I mean by that is, although it seems a little odd writing to you, I reference you, quote you (especially ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think’; and Kipling, of course — Tony Fenton read ‘If’ at your funeral, but I’m sure he’s told you that by now) and I talk to you often.

I know, in this life, you do the best you can with what you have, and often, when I contemplate your life, or the part of it I knew you for, I admire you more and more.

Someone, not long after you had departed, gave me a copy of your class confirmation photograph. It was a wonderful surprise, and a shock at the same time, as it was the first time I had seen a photograph of you as a young boy. At first, I panicked for fear I wouldn’t be able to pick you out, but one quick scan and there you were. As you’d say yourself, it took me to the fair.

Suddenly, I had a new insight to my late father and the stories you told of your youth, from being a butcher boy to boyhood adventures — like the time you cycled from Dublin to Navan in the 1930s and, arriving in the dark and contemplating your return journey, you confronted your fear when you decided, with great trepidation, to call upon an aged, austere aunt, whom you were sure would turn you away, and yet your instinct was sharp — she put you up for the night and showed you nothing but great love.

You always recalled that story with great affection and I always got the sense, in that moment of recollection, you re-lived the relief and connected with the warmth and love of family. You had great strength from an early age. Anyway, I could go on… And why am I writing you a letter now, you might ask? Well, perhaps it feels a little more permanent than just talking to you from time to time; and, with that said, it almost feels like writing a letter to Santa, with the main difference being he received my letters. Who knows? Maybe up the chimney is a good route.

But, seriously, I wanted to thank you, and do something that was once the preserve of birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. That is, to tell you that I love you and give you a hug. I have a charmed and sometimes painful life, and I do try to treat “those two impostors” just the same and, thanks to you, I still see the beauty first, in it all. I think you’d be proud of where I am in my heart and in my head. You have most of us there with you now; we still have the best of you with us here.

Love, Paul.


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