This much I know: Don Conroy

Art and nature have always been part of my makeup.

My earliest memory is sitting on the kitchen floor drawing, as my mum asked if I’d like to help set the table.

When I was nine, my aunt Elizabeth was in hospital and I made her a get well card with a picture of a little robin on it. A couple of weeks later I found out I’d won first prize in the UK and Ireland Shell BP art competition. My aunt had entered the card!

I am disciplined about work when I need to be, but I often write or paint late into the evening.

I tried a nine to five job, in an advertisement agency, years ago. I loved those days — Mad Men reminds me of them, and how we can be so manipulated by ads — but absolute hell for me would be a totally controlled life.

Modern society needs to be careful, we seem to be losing freedoms in a subtle way. All kinds of little things, like the freedom to move around freely, which is being eroded due to the threat of terrorism.

I did a diploma in The Royal Irish Academy in Speech and Drama and was involved in a lot of amateur productions. My acting career evolved from there. I was in The Gate Theatre, towards the tail end of Hilton Edwards’ and Michael MacLiammoir’s empire. Hilton gave me some great advice one evening; he took me aside and said: ‘Dear boy what you need to do is have several strings to your bow’ — and he was right.

I was never interested in money. I’d prefer to read some John Keats poetry. The Celtic Tiger was a predator on the Irish psyche. It did untold damage and created an artificiality that didn’t suit us. Now, the constant talk about the financial crisis has made us become obsessed with it. Sometimes you have to step away from the fear which we are being fed every day of the week.

I don’t like conflict. I occasionally come up against it. I try not to give energy to negative things.

The most dramatic challenge for me so far was when my mother died. My father had died when I was only six months old, so my mother was both mother and father to us and I was the youngest. I’m still very close to my two sisters and my brother. Luckily, we all live in Dublin and we meet every Tuesday for a chat and to watch a movie.

My new radio show, Don’s Wild Watch, is getting a great response, which is nice. We’re hoping to introduce young people to the natural world in an easy, gentle way. To encourage them to appreciate wildlife and the sheer wonder of what’s around us because now so much comes to us second-hand through television or the internet. But things like marvelling at a kestrel hovering in the sky or a dolphin swimming can really fire the imagination.

My own love of nature began when I was growing up in Donnybrook in Dublin. I used to walk down by the Dodder river to the Pembroke Library and was fascinated by what I saw — a grey heron or a little flash of electric blue as a kingfisher flitted up the river. And I’d spend hours in Herbert Park, watching the ducks.

I’m a gemini, a mixture of an extrovert and a very quiet introvert. My wife is more grounded — and intelligent.

I believe in some sort of life after death. This life is a mystery but it’s eternal.

I keep fit by doing a lot of walking and by forcing myself to go to the gym twice a week.

I enjoy doing television and radio and giving my workshops in places like the National Gallery and Natural History Museum and Dublin zoo. I love it when, out of the blue, some Goth, with the hair and the earrings and the leather jacket — will come up to me and say ‘You got me into art college’.

Don Conroy presents Don’s Wild Watch on RTÉjr Radio. Throughout the month of May, RTÉ celebrates the nature and wildlife of Ireland with RTÉ Goes Wild across TV, radio and online. For more visit www.rte.ie/rtegoeswild


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