In a new podcast series called ‘Human Nature’, available to listen to on, journalist Rodney Edwards speaks to some of the best known people across Ireland north and south about life, love, emotion, grief and hears stories of struggle and accomplishment.

This week: Joe Duffy, a husband, a father, a son, a brother and one of the best known radio presenters in Ireland.

RE: Joe Duffy, it’s really good to see you. Thank you for doing this. What about lockdown, how’s it been for you?

JD: I'm working in a median Rodney, radio that has become like all media, I think it’s become very important during the… all trustworthy media has become very important during the lockdown. I go into work every day, most times I prefer to walk from home, but the nature of the programme, lives, small-talk, four or five people on the line at one time, it makes it very difficult. But anyway, I’m managing, I’m really conscious of people, one, who’ve died, two, relatives that couldn’t even be with their loved ones when they died, three, others who couldn’t even go to the funeral of friends as they died.

RE: What’s your relationship like with your mother Mabel and indeed what was it like with your parents? So, your late father was Jimmy, isn’t that right?

JD: Yeah, James, Jimmy. Like I suppose there was six children, my father was in England for a lot of the time working in the 50’s and 60’s, just in general work. So, I can remember going up to the local butchers shop every Saturday at five o'clock where they had a public telephone and waiting for my father to ring from London on wherever he was. Mabel was, she still is an incredible woman. Like she reared six children almost on her own, and there’s only two years between each of us, six children all on her own and she then went out to work in the afternoon.

RE: Did that sort of mindset inspire you then in the years to come?

JD: Yeah, my father wasn’t great. I know he had his problems, but he was an extraordinarily hard worker. He’d get up early, he had a little foible which I still have, he had his clock a half an hour ahead, so when he’d wake up in the morning it’d be six o’clock on the clock, he knew it was half five, but he’d get up at a quarter to six, which just before the lockdown I was getting up at quarter to six.. So, he was a hard worker, and funnily enough Rodney, I don’t know how these things happen, my own children three of them, I was only thinking about this recently, and they were never asked to do it or forced to do it, but since they were 15, 16, each one of them piled in with a part-time job at the weekends.

RE: And your father used to drink, and that's obviously a very Irish thing anyway wasn’t it.

JD: Yeah, very Irish and not unusual in working class areas. Remember, he was born in a tenement in 1926 and he was born in the same tenement that his own mother was born in. When I say tenement, I mean the tenement rule. I brought my children to the Tenement Museum to show them what life was like for my father. Like an open fire was your cooking, a tea-chest might be your table and there’d be maybe two big beds that they all shared, I sound like Frank McCourt don’t I in Angela’s Ashes. I think we used to get food parcels from the McCourt’s, and we got one the day they were… but anyway, there was no private space and the only public space was the public house, that’s where people could go and sit and chat, and drink as you know is a big part of culture in Ireland and it got the better of my dad at various times, and I believe between that and smoking led to his early demise. He died at 58, which is tragically young, and he kind of had a stroke when he was 54, so for the last four years of his life he was out of work.

RE: What affect does alcohol have on a family and on children, do you think?

JD: Fear. In general, it’s fear, because you don't know what someone is going to do when they’re drunk as they say. But then poverty as well because of money, if a family like ours had more wage earnt, that’s why our mother went out to work. Yeah, it’s a tough one, and by the way I’ve said social drinking is absolutely fine by me, but I know for some people it becomes a terrible disease, a terrible addiction, it’s a cruel addiction. And I’m fairly conscious now with the lockdown that some people I know who are recovering alcoholics have slipped, and you try and be as supportive to them as you can you know.

RE: Your brother Aidan died in a car crash, didn’t he?

JD: Yeah, he was 25 years of age. That is without doubt the single biggest wound in my life is Aidan’s death. He was a good lad, he was a great worker, very bright, he was the youngest in our family and myself and my brother were talking about him the other day, we often talk about him. When he was born he developed whooping cough, this would have been in 1966, and he’s in hospital and then my mother was sent for that he was dying, and he made his confirmation when he was just 3 months old or whatever, and he got the last rites, so we nearly lost him when he was 3 months old. I used to mind him, I was exactly to the week Rodney, I was 10 years older than him to the week, which meant I used to… there was only one girl in our family Pauline, and she was next, she was only 2 years older than Aidan, so it meant when Aidan was being minded it was me. I used to wheel him round in the pram and we’d be hanging around with a gang of lads playing football and I’d have to bring Aidan with me, and Aidan would be sitting in the pram at the side of the pitch or whatever. So, we were very close, and then he was killed in an awful tragedy… by the way there was another woman killed in the crash. He was driving the company van, this is broad daylight coming out of Maynooth, the van had been fixed by a mechanic and funnily enough, the last time I saw Aidan was three days before he was killed, and I was up at my mother’s and he had the van with him. And he was out, he’s saying to me “look at the state of that van they have me in, they’re due to get me a new one”, but anyway the steering chassis collapsed and Aidan’s van careered under a truck, and the truck pushed Aidan’s van back, killing him instantly by the way, pushed Aidan’s van back and under a coach that was coming behind him that was full of Spanish students and one of the teachers was killed, so there was two people killed in that. But he was only 25, he’d just moved in with his girlfriend, he was doing well, a great worker again. Like I discovered things after he’d died when we were going through his stuff, like he’d written to Arlo Guthrie, you wouldn’t remember Arlo Guthrie would you? Woody Guthrie and Arlo, they were famous American folks singers of working songs, union songs and all that carry on, and I know he loved Arlo Guthrie because he had all his albums. And then I discovered letters that Arlo Guthrie had sent to Aidan, Aidan had written to Arlo Guthrie and said, “love your work”, and discovered he had shares bought in different companies, so he had a bit of go on him. And I was the one unfortunately or not, I was in work, I was in RTE at the time and I was presenting, not Lifeline it was another programme that was on at the same time as Lifeline, and I remember in the 1.30pm news bulletin hearing there’s been a tragic car accident in Maynooth and two people are dead, I said “oh my god”. And then at 3pm as I came upstairs the chaplain at RTE was sitting at my desk and I was wondering why he was there, and a few of my friends were there and they said “we’ve bad news, Aidan’s been killed in a car crash”, and the hardest thing I ever had to do in all my living life was go up to tell my mother that Aidan was dead, that’s what I had to do. I still find it difficult to talk about it, to knock on the door and your mother opens and you have to tell her that her youngest son is dead.

RE: Those type of memories don’t leave you though, do they Joe?

JD: No, they don’t. I can vividly see it, it was in August, it was a lovely Summer’s day. I remember as I was leaving Archie to go up, I wanted to know where my mother was, so I rang the neighbours and said “where’s Mabel?”, and she said “oh, she’s sitting out the back on her chair, it’s a lovely sunny day”, it was Deirdre Carroll the neighbour, she’s since deceased unfortunately. I said “Deirdre, would you be around, I’m going to go up and tell Mabel that Aidan has been killed and I need to get a few of the neighbours in to be with her while we get her sisters over and her mother over?”. But anyway, her life changed forever that day.

RE: You describe yourself as a Christian Socialist, what does that mean?

JD: Yeah, that was way back. Who was I thinking about then, Tony Blair... yes, because I was religious, I went to mass every day in Trinity for some reason.

RE: Are you not religious anymore?

JD: Yeah, I have a belief, I wouldn’t be religious in terms of attendance at it. The last religious service… I’ve a place down on Wexford, we had a mobile home, now I have a house down there, and the part of Wexford we’re in is quite Church of Ireland, and there’s some beautiful Church of Ireland buildings. I think the last three services I’ve been at in the last year were in Protestant churches, which are extraordinarily welcoming. I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve anyway.

RE: Yeah, because I didn’t know what Christian Socialist was, and I Googled it. “Christian Socialists believe capitalism to be rooted in the sin of greed”, do you share that view?

JD: Well I do believe that society, the only societies that do prosper are capitalist societies. I do believe in encouraging people to work, I’ve no issue with people having incentives to work, bettering themselves or whatever, no issues with that. The other, which I was never into, I wouldn’t be mad about capitalism, but what’s the alternative?

RE: Do you've any personal walls that you've built out of fear?

JD: A good question that, probably afraid to tell you. I’d be very insecure, that’s the other thing, I’ve never had a sense that I was entitled to a job or entitled to stuff in life.

RE: But does your insecurity make you a better broadcaster?

JD: I think it does actually. I think not just my insecurity, but I think in so far as I don't overthink it, but I think I can relate to people more because I've been through a lot of things in my life, both from where I was born, my upbringing, my experiences leaving school then going back to third-level after 3 years, becoming a Social Worker, becoming a Probation Officer, the family I’m from. I do think that I have an empathy there, which I think is real. I can’t stand broadcasters who you know they’re contriving an argument, you know they don’t believe, obviously they believe something, but a lot of the things they come out with especially at the start of their programme is trying to get people going, you know they’re no more believing that than the man in the moon. No, everything I say I believe.

RE: What do you think about what's going on in America right now?

JD: Oh, it’s horrific, absolutely horrific. I think Trump is monstrous, he is a monster, it’s just so distressing. How can you have someone who you cannot believe, I think they’ve now counted 20,000 individual lies he’s told since he became President, and that doesn’t count the lies that he has repeated. I think one lie he’s repeated 147 times. It’s just dispiriting, it’s despairing, like we have at the minute in the world we have Donald Trump who for all his faults was elected, we’ve Vladimir Putin who is another criminal and his opponents and indeed people in other countries have been killed, he took down a Malaysian aircraft over the Ukraine. And then we’ve Che in China, and China has no free speech, and then in the UK he was elected by his party, but Boris Johnson has been proven to be a windbag, especially in the tragedy they’re going through at the minute, an absolute windbag.

RE: If you could interview Donald Trump, what would you ask him?

JD: I’d ask why do you lie so much? Why does he have to lie so much?

RE: How does Leo Varadkar compare there to all of these leaders?

JD: Any Irish politician’s in a different league, North and South, totally different league. I can’t think anyone would doubt the sincerity of Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, Mary Lou, Arlene Foster, Michelle Nialls, Eamon Ryan you know, Hermann Kelly. I just, they’re on a different plane, you know okay we have different policies and different ways of approaching things and different ways of prioritising things, or even achieving things, but I don't think any of them speaking this week would doubt this time that the world would doubt their sincerity.

RE: You’ve three children Joe, triplets in fact…

JD: They hate being called triplets.

RE: … Ronan, Ellen and Sean. Do you remember their birth, and what impact did that have on you and your wife June?

JD: Absolutely, I was there like, because we discovered there was going to be three of them shortly before they were born, we knew that they would need extra staff obviously, they’d need three teams. So, they decided it was going to be 9 o’clock on the Tuesday morning, and June was in the hospital for 12 weeks at that stage, which was just to make sure nothing happened. Her major achievement was when three of ours were born, they were the longest gestation of triplets in Ireland up to that time, because June had taken to the bed, and they took her in and put her into a bed, because I remember we went in to see our gynae or whatever, and June happened to tell him.. he said “June, you look very tired”, and she said “I was cutting the grass this morning”, he said “what?”, she said “I was cutting the grass”, he said “you’re not going home”. He said, “what are you doing cutting the grass when you’re expecting triplets in 12 weeks”, so she was there for the 12 weeks in the Rotunda, and that helped. Yeah, it was a great day, and they’re good lads, yeah.

RE: And how often do you tell them how you feel about them?

JD: I do, you know what I do a lot, I text them and tell them I love them. I think they know what I’m on about. They beat me at every argument, like I'm quite surprised at what they’ve become, like one of them is an Economist and a Policy Analyst in the civil service, the other fella is a Consultant in life sciences in Accenture, and Ellen is a highly regarded Primary School Teacher, who’d be a Principal if I had my way, before she’s 30 because she’s got the ability. So, yeah, the thing is you don’t… like someone said to me the other day when I was telling them what Sean was doing, he said “but does that not remind you of somebody?”, and I said “no, who?”, and he said “you, you dope”. Like he’s big into education, two of them luckily enough got 1st’s in Trinity, I only got a 2:2, and Ellen did extraordinarily well in her Leavers as well, even though there was no hot-housing or helicopter parenting. Anyway, they’ve surprised us, they constantly surprise us, that’s what I love about our kids.

RE: What is the most defining moment of your life so far?

JD: I’d say the children, the birth of the children. Funnily enough, there was triplets in Ballyfermot, I was mesmerised by them, and when we had them I almost felt it was destiny and I also believe it's just what I say when people say is there a God, I say “whoever decided to give June and me triplets knew what they were doing”, because she is so organised and she runs a great house and a great network and a great system.

RE: If you left this life tomorrow, how would you like to be remembered?

JD: Well I’m not a great believer in… if you’re gone, you’re gone, but through my children. But that’s the only image I have Rodney, if ever I had an image about my funeral, is my… I remember actually shortly after my children were born I was out in Dublin Airport, and I was waiting to collect some baggage, and I saw these three people come through in black suits, and not only were they obviously brothers, looking at them they were triplets, they were the same age and they were coming home for a funeral. And I suspect they were coming home for the funeral of their parents with their demeanour, and I have that image still in my head. All I can see at my funeral is apart my wife obviously, is the three children shouldering the coffin, and I’d like them to speak at the funeral. I’d like them to tell me a few things before I die, but that is my image. I see no-one else there apart from my family.

So, my legacy is my children.

Human Nature is a podcast written and presented by The Impartial Reporter’s Rodney Edwards and is available to listen to in full on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud and