Known to many in County Clare, for decades Michael Tierney could be seen walking the streets of Ennis, delivering newspapers on his daily round or standing outside the main cathedral on Sunday mornings after mass. He was recognised by his hats, his choice of jewellery, or the smell of perfume as he walked by.
He wore make-up and large collection of wigs - some blonde with pigtails and others jet black like Elvis. Michael was an individual in an age of conformity. From the 1950s onwards, he dressed in feminine and increasing flamboyant outfits, yet he was fully accepted and respected as a member of society. Country folk came to the market town at weekends and would only buy their papers from Michael.
The business community protected him from teenage taunts and general society took him in as one of their own. As families began to holiday abroad from the 1960s onwards, the women of the town would often bring back ‘a hat for Michael.’ When he died, it was one of the largest funerals ever seen in Ennis.
The Documentary on One: I Could Have Danced All Night features an assortment of characters that knew Michael and recall his joie de vivre.
These include Grammy winning singer Maura O’Connell, writer and actor Mark O’Halloran, and members of his family and friends. Michael’s legacy lives on, and young people in Ennis talk about how his ability to be who he was in more straitened times - has also set an example for young gay men and women in Ennis today.
Few recordings are known to have been made of Michael during his lifetime, and Brian begins a quest to unearth Michael’s voice.
His search leads him to those involved in a local pirate station in Ennis in the early 1980s, and the slim chance that a recording may still exist.
In this Radio 1 documentary, Ennis native Brian O’Connell reassembles the life and times of Michael Tierney through recollections of those who knew and loved him. He takes a walk around Ennis and calls to the shop owners on Michael’s newspaper route, speaks with jewellers who supplied him with earrings, and hears from neighbours and friends who recount his extraordinary life lived to the full. They remember the mystery tours that Michael took many people on, his affinity with the elderly and lonely, and how he handled abuse thrown at him with humour and indifference.
Efforts are currently underway by locals in Ennis to try and commemorate the life of Michael Tierney. His grave lies sadly unkempt. His hats and jewellery have long since been donated to charity shops.
Compiled and narrated by Brian O'Connell.
Production supervision by Sarah Blake.
Sound supervision by Anton Timoney.
First broadcast 31st July 2010
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.