Michael Murphy on his new book, love and marriage at 70

After more than three decades together, Michael Murphy and Terry O’Sullivan were married in September. As he embarks on a national tour to discuss his new book on dreams, the former RTÉ newsreader talks to Esther McCarthy about marriage at 70.

Michael Murphy on his new book, love and marriage at 70

It was while working on an outside broadcast for RTÉ more than three decades ago that Michael Murphy first noticed Terry O’Sullivan, and found the great love of his life.

The popular newsreader was then working as a producer for the national broadcaster on a programme on addiction. They were filming in The Rutland Centre, where Terry was a founding member.

“I was very much in the closet when I met Terry,” says Michael. “At that stage, I was a producer/director. We were up at the Rutland Centre, where Terry worked. We were making a programme on addiction. I watched him over three days in an outside broadcast unit. As a producer/director, you can look at someone in three seconds and know whether they have it or not.

“We all got together afterwards and had a meal, and I made sure I was sitting beside Terry. From then on, it was incrementally, step by step, I became much more open.” Just two months ago, Michael (70) and Terry (66) decided to marry in Dublin, 33 years after they first met. Their reasons for doing so are as varied as any couples’, but partly because they were so heartened by the result of the gay marriage referendum when Ireland voted yes two years ago.

The already had a civil partnership when they decided to tie the knot. “I blame Catherine Zappone,” says Terry. “Catherine and her late partner Ann Louise brought Ireland to the Supreme Court. We had a Civil Union, which had supported our rights. But we figured as Michael says we’d upgrade it (when the referendum passed). We love each other, but as importantly, it was about the generosity of Irish people. This is what Ireland has done. It’s fantastic, and it has done so much for the profile of this country.” They were in Galway preparing for a show as part of Michael’s Speaking of Dreams tour when news of the ‘yes’ vote came through. Regular presenter Ciana Campbell was unable to make it that day, but appropriately former politician Marie Geoghegan-Quinn was standing in. She had been involved in legislating for the decriminalisation of homosexuality years before.

“On the morning the vote was being counted we were down in the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway for a meeting with Maire Geoghegan-Quinn. Results started to come in and it was positive,” says Michael. “So we actually danced a conga around the boardroom table. She had, 22 years before, brought in the decriminalisation. She’s a courageous woman. We were with the right person.” It’s just weeks after their wedding and Terry, a psychoanalytic-psychotherapist, and Michael, a psychoanalyst, are sitting in the Herbert Park Hotel where the ceremony took place. Judging by the warmth of staff that greet them, it was a special and memorable day, though not without its stresses.

A close friend of the couple based in Spain sent wine for the wedding, but hours before the ceremony it hadn’t arrived as scheduled.

“We organised it (the wedding) within a fortnight. We said: ‘Let’s go and make this a celebration’,” says Michael. “Up to two o’clock we were still expecting the wine, and we were due to get married at four. It was upsetting.” “It was first-world upsetting!” quips Terry.

“Looking back on it, there was an awful lot of love in the room, goodwill. People really dressed up.” Both men agree that growing up as gay in a different Ireland they never thought such a day would be possible. They never even thought of it, or imagined it would happen, even when they celebrated their Civil Partnership.

Michael reading the news at RTÉ. Photo: Stephen Wall Morris
Michael reading the news at RTÉ. Photo: Stephen Wall Morris

Both men had very different experiences of ‘coming out’. For Michael it was a gradual, or as he puts it, incremental process, while Terry has been openly gay for as long as he can remember. “I was very open and lived a life that was very involved in gay community politics and issues. We set up the Irish gay rights movement with David Norris. My mother and father were liberal people.” Michael’s experience was different. “It was more a gradual thing. It became easier when you put things into words, those steps help you along the way. You look back and you realise how far you have come and what you have become, and also the people you’ve left behind. It’s a huge journey, a continual journey all the time.

“We’ve grown up as a nation,” says Michael. “We’re no longer being dictated to by the Church, by anybody really. It really marked something important.

“Young people today decide: ‘Yes if we like each other we’re going to set up house first and see if that works. And if that works we’ll get married’. Everybody accepts that, the younger generation accepts that, which is just wonderful.” In the coming months, Michael and Terry are going back on the road for the Speaking of Dreams tour, an interactive show where Michael and presenter Ciana Campbell examine our dreams, the insights they offer into our lives, and what they can tell us about our state of mind in the here and now.

Terry will be joining him, though at one recent event he forgot to upload slides on the background screen. “He had one simple job!” says Michael. “I came off stage and said: ‘Will you press the effing button!’” “I’m his driver. He can give out to me. I’m just the martyr!” Terry responds. “I support him, and gauge the mood of the audience. I’m more of a glad-handler than Michael is, and I’m able to move in and around people and chat to them. I’m interested in their lives, in where they’re from, in who they belong to.” The show is an extension of Michael’s bestseller. “It’s based on my book, Michael Murphy’s Book of Dreams. There are 65 contemporary Irish dreams that came to me from a variety of sources.

“They’re short dreams and then I do a brief analysis of what they mean. What it means is you’re able to, after you’ve read a few of them, decipher your own dreams, and understand, for example, what’s the bottom line in the drama of the dream, and how does it apply to me in my present day?

“The most common one for Irish people is the Leaving Cert dream. You’re back doing the Leaving Cert 20 years later, in your old desk, in your old school, and everyone around you is 18 years of age, they can all answer the maths questions, and you haven’t a clue of what cosine is, or whatever. You wake in a panic. That’s one of the most common dreams. The Leaving Cert is the most difficult exam we’ll ever pass, because so much is riding on it.

“When you have that sort of a dream, there are two main things involved. First of all, if you’re 40 years of age you shouldn’t be doing something that is more appropriate to an 18 year old. You’ve got a lot of wisdom since you left school.

“So you ask: ‘What is before me? Is it a presentation I have to do at work?’ The Leaving Cert dream is a warning dream, to prepare. That would be one of the most common dreams.” Michael says that even though some dreams - or nightmares - may seem disturbing or terrifying - they are overwhelmingly positive, and typically about planning for the future.

“The latest research about dreams shows it’s about updating your strategies for survival. They’ve done wonderful research in the States about this. In a simple way, it’s about preparing you for the next stage. To help you survive and make a success of things.

“It’s about gearing you towards the future all the time. That’s why you should ask: How does that apply today? What does that mean?

“Dreams always want what’s best for you. It might be a terrible nightmare and you might think: ‘I’m glad that’s over’. It wants your best. And often it compensates for what’s not happening in your everyday life. It’s trying to bring a bit of balance back in.” They are looking forward to travelling to Cork as part of the tour on December 2nd, says Terry. “We’re really looking forward to it. Cork has opened its heart to us over the years. There’s a cheekiness to Cork people as well!” Michael Murphy’s Book of Dreams is published by Gill Books. The Speaking of Dreams tour comes to Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre on December 2nd, with dates in Limerick and Kilkenny also planned. www.michaelmurphyauthor.com

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