The late Irish American, New York-born writer JP Dunleavy was - amongst other things - described as ‘a painter who became a writer and then a rediscovered painter’.
For many years, he was also a farming man, owning a secluded estate outside Mullingar in Co. Westmeath. Dunleavy had come to Ireland to study at Trinity College Dublin in 1946, and had been one of the remaining people who had directly witnessed, as well as contributed to, bohemian mid-twentieth century Dublin cultural life.
His distinctive voice and sharp wit lent itself effectively to conversation. Here, a selection of RTÉ Radio archive broadcasts catch him across the years.
John Bowman’s radio archive programme (then called Bowman Saturday 8.30) was made for JP Dunleavy’s 75th birthday and broadcast on 21 April 2001. It includes excerpts from an interview made by Kevin O’Connor on location in Dunleavy’s home, as well as a Sunday Miscellany radio essay by writer John Ryan who was a good friend of JP Dunleavy.
In 2005, the daily RTÉ Radio 1 arts programme was Rattlebag, presented by Myles Dungan. On 4 May 2005 the show was broadcast from Belfast during the 5th International Cathederal Quarter Cultural Festival where Dungan interviewed JP Dunleavy, then 79, and whose book The Ginger Man was marking its fiftieth year in publication. Together, Dungan and Dunleavy speak about fame, notoriety, and the history of that novel.
A year later in 2006, Dungan caught up with Dunleavy who had just turned 80. The pair look at photographs from Dunleavy’s life, as well as first editions of his books on display alongside a retrospective exhibition of his paintings in The Molesworth Gallery in Dublin. One of the photographs captures a dashing young Edward Kennedy with Dunleavy presenting him a copy of his book The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. He poignantly remarks on the two Irish faces it captures together in a room in Washington.
Dunleavy wittily recalls how once it was realised that the youth of America were reading The Ginger Man, his views on politics became valued as a way into connecting with them. Dunleavy relates how when he suggested to Kennedy that he should never revere his father (former Ambassador Joe Kennedy), and if he really wanted to lay down the law for the youth of America that they should remember what fathers did by way of dirty deals to pay for their children’s education. Dunleavy, laughing, recalls how Kennedy threw back his head in the air and asks ‘What about my father?’
Looking at a first edition of his book A Fairytale of New York, Dunleavy explains that he was fine with Shane McGowan using the title of that novel for his iconic song of the same name, once he heard what a fan McGowan’s father, to whom he dedicated the song, was of Dunleavy’s writing.
RTÉ Radio 1’s The Arts Show with Vincent Woods was broadcast live from the Project Arts Centre during The Dublin Writers Festival on 11 June 2008, with guest JP Dunleavy. Included in this recording are readings by Dunleavy of a couple of excerpts from some of his books. From The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual Of Survival And Manners which Dunleavy describes as ‘an irreverent book on social climbing’ comes the excerpts entitled ‘Useful Rules in Social Climbing’ and ‘At The Funeral’. He also reads the final paragraph from The Ginger Man, the novel that continued to define him.
Singer Aoise sings Raglan Road, before which Dunleavy relates its significance for him, since he knew the American about whom Kavanagh wrote the lyrics, as well as Kavanagh himself. He also talks in the interview about being a writer and what is required to write. As he puts it "You always need pressure. Authors are notorious for not being able to work unless things are pushing them… and poverty is the best pressure". Relating to the life of writing, he muses how he "…loves the theatre. It’s a great excuse to be in the company of other people, for a start". Although comfortably off when he came to Dublin, he was very aware of the poverty that existed so close to Trinity College where he was a student and says that "It was a tough time [post-war Dublin in the 1940s]. If you had six sausages, that was important and if you had to have something to eat and climb over a mountain to a village selling at a cheaper price people would do that". He was someone who noticed things - and put to use what he saw in his writing.