Facing up to tragedy: Dezy Walls wrote a play to deal with grief

Dezy Walls wrote a play to help him deal with the lingering grief of his father’s death in the Tuskar Rock crash, writes Colette Sheridan.

WALKING home to his family house in Glounthane, Co Cork after Sunday Mass on March 24, 1968, Dezy Walls, aged 19, went into the hallway and saw his mother with the telephone receiver swinging loosely beside her.

“She was stunned,” recalls Walls. 

“I picked up the phone. It was my Uncle Arthur, deputy manager of Aer Lingus in Dublin. He said my father’s plane was missing over the Irish sea.

Dezy Walls is originally from Glounthane, Co Cork, and now lives in Kerry
Dezy Walls is originally from Glounthane, Co Cork, and now lives in Kerry

“I don’t remember what I said to him. There was hope all day, until my father’s other brother, Bertie, came down from Dublin. 

“I remember my mother rushing to the door when she saw him coming up the driveway and saying ‘Bertie,

“Bertie, any news?’ He said there was no news and there wouldn’t be any. He put his arms around my mother. 

At that moment, the world which had been crumbling fell apart.

But for a while, a part of Walls never gave up hope that somehow, his 44-year-old father, Desmond, who had 12 children, had survived the Tuskar Rock crash. 

The Aer Lingus Viscount was on a flight between Cork and London Heathrow when it crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock in Wexford. All 57 passengers and four crew members died.

Walls, 71, describes himself asa semi-retired entertainer, and had written a play to mark this week’s anniversary of the tragedy. 

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis scuppered plans to perform it.

“I spent most of my life behind the piano singing, a lot of the time in Kinsale as well as doing corporate work in Holland and Germany and house concerts all over America,” says Walls.

He now lives in Derrynane, Co Kerry, with his second wife, who runs a B&B.

Walls’ late mother moved to her native Dublin after her husband’s death and later went back to work. 

At the time of the plane crash, her youngest child was only 11 months old.

LIFE GOES ON

In 2018, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Tuskar Rock tragedy, Walls performed a self-penned play for his extended family. 

His nephew, Eoin Brennan, a producer at Newstalk, suggested he make a radio version of it. Searching for Daddly-Dee was broadcast on the radio station for the 51st anniversary and won an IMRO radio award as drama of the year.

Dezy Walls with his father Desmond, who was one of 61 people who died when their flight from Cork crashed.
Dezy Walls with his father Desmond, who was one of 61 people who died when their flight from Cork crashed.

For the 52nd anniversary of the crash, Walls was to perform the one-man drama, accompanying himself on piano, at the house his family used to live in. 

Mrs Earley, who reared ten children, now lives at the Glounthane home. She and her family have always welcomed the Walls when they wanted to mark the anniversary there over the years.

Walls’s father’s body was never recovered. 

“I went to London actually, expecting to meet him there. He was going there, so he must be there, I thought. The mind does tricks. 

I had an unfinished conversation with my father. Maybe even if he lived, it would still have been unfinished.

Walls, the second eldest in the family, recalls commonplace family tension with his father, the operations manager at the Whitegate oil refinery. The young Walls wanted to work in entertainment.

“I wasn’t from a show business family although my father was a fabulous piano player and songwriter himself. It was all his fault,” he says, laughing.

Walls senior wanted his son to study mathematics. Reluctantly, Walls went to UCC to do that, in an effort to please his father.

Their last encounter, while driving with his father, saw Walls get out of the car and slam the door in anger. 

His father had been giving out to him for socialising too much when he should have been studying.

Walls didn’t finish his degree. 

“I ended up going to a psychiatrist who said it was natural for an eldest son to be in competition with his father. In some way, I think, maybe I wanted him to go? But that’s pop psychology.”

“The story is about how the crash affected me. The flight has nothing to do with it. One minute my father was there, the next minute, he wasn’t. 

“There was a definite sense that it must be my fault. These things don’t happen to people

unless they’ve done something wrong.”

KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

One day in London, a Welsh man slipped Walls fifty pence. 

“This man said, ‘You’re a little bit down on your luck.’ I thought then that we’re not alone in this world. I wasn’t long term homeless or anything like that. But I was in a bad way. I had no money and I think I walked the streets the night before because I had nowhere to sleep.”

Facing up to tragedy: Dezy Walls wrote a play to deal with grief
A Viscount plane of the type that crashed in March 1968.

Walls wrote the play to deal with the effects on him of the tragedy. 

“If it was going to bring up a lot of pain, I wanted it to. I wanted to know that I had come to terms with it. And I have. In the end, there is a great resolution in the story.” 

That’s based on something that Walls saw as his mother lay dying.

As to what actually happened to the ill-fated airplane, Walls is satisfied with the study published in 2002. It concluded that the cause of the collision may have been a result of structural failure of the aircraft, corrosion, metal fatigue, ‘flutter’ or a bird strike. 

The team, established by the then minister for public enterprise, Mary O’Rourke, ruled out the possibility of the involvement of any other aircraft or missile.

“People had come up with the theory that maybe the British had a drone up in the sky. You know us Irish. We think we can blame the British for anything.”

Desmond Walls senior lived his relatively short life to the full, focusing on his big brood and building a swimming pool for them as well as creating a tennis court in the grounds of the house. He had been going to London on a business trip. 

But it was his home life that gave him the most joy. 

“He tolerated his job but would take off his suit as soon as he could and put on old clothes, to build the swimming pool and play with the kids.”

Walls say that no matter “how many disagreements we had about college, I still had a very good life and a wonderful family.”

There is a bittersweet irony that Dezy Walls is remembering the pivotal event in his father’s life through a play. 

Walls senior didn’t want his son to go into show business but Walls obviously inherited his talent from his musical father who may, had he lived, relented when it came to Dezy’s career trajectory.

Dezy Walls is hoping to perform Searching for Daddly-Dee again in the future.


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