Interview With A Man: Radio Host and Rock Band Founding Member, Fiachna Ó Braonáin - The Gloss Magazine

Interview With A Man: Radio Host and Rock Band Founding Member, Fiachna Ó Braonáin

Fiachna Ó Braonáin is host of Late Date on RTÉ Radio One and a founding member of The Hothouse Flowers. A father of five children, from 33 to nine years old, he is married to Síona Ryan. They live in Greystones, Co Wicklow with their two children. Interview by Sarah Caden

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PARENTS? The most loving and supportive parents anybody could wish for. My father is 92 and my mother is 80, and I consider myself very lucky to be at the age of 58, and to still have both my parents. [Ó Braonáin’s father died just after this interview took place.]

WAS YOURS AN IRISH-SPEAKING HOME? My parents were both Dublin Irish speakers. When my father was nine, he decided he wanted to go to Ring College to learn Irish and then he changed his name from Harry Brennan to Anraí Ó Bhraonáin.

HAVE YOU PASSED ON THE LANGUAGE TO YOUR CHILDREN? My twin girls, who have just turned 33, did all their schooling as Gaeilge and continue to use Irish in their lives. My middle child is in France and speaks French, so she’s a chapter of her own. And then with my wife Síona I have a nine-year-old daughter, who goes to the local gaelscoil and speaks Irish. Our eleven-year-old son is autistic, so it was suggested he stick to one language. He’s now annoyed he doesn’t speak Irish.

DID YOUR SCHOOL MAKE A BIG IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE? School had a huge impact because it was where music started for me. For primary, I went to Scoil Lorcáin in Monkstown, where my first tin whistle teacher, other than my father, was Pádraig Ó Méalóid, also an RTÉ newsreader and voiceover artist. That’s where Liam (Ó Maonlaoí, singer with The Hothouse Flowers) and his younger brother Colm and I started jamming together. We’d all be at the bus stop playing tunes together.

DID YOU LIKE SCHOOL? I really did. I went to Coláiste Eoin for secondary and they really encouraged music. Davy Spillane from Moving Hearts was there and, I remember when I was in first year, the sixth years had a trad band that was like Planxty or The Bothy Band to us. Every class had a band. We’d enter Slógadh, which was a contest, but it felt like a festival to us.

WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU’D GROW UP TO BE? I think it was very clear that I wanted to be a musician. But it was also very clear that this was unrealistic, so I went to UCD to do law, but that lasted only a year.

WHAT WAS YOUR BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT? We started The Hothouse Flowers in April 1985 while Liam was at Trinity and I was at UCD. That summer, we started busking on Grafton Street. It was just us and one guitar but we had this energy that attracted a big crowd and filled the hat, so that we could go off and feed ourselves with pasta in the Coffee Inn and pints in Toner’s. Busking played a huge part in creating a sense of invincibility and confidence. Gigs at UCD, Rag Week, Freshers Ball, the Trinity Ball followed, then the radio and the Late Late Show, then we got into the studio to make a record with U2’s label, Mother Records.

YOUR BIGGEST STRENGTH AS A MUSICIAN AND A BROADCASTER? I love people. Being on the radio late at night feels like being part of a community. Community feeling is something I value and that’s part of being in a band, too.

MY STYLE SIGNIFIER IS … A suit. When we started busking, I always wore a suit. You get great value out of a secondhand suit. I had one I paid a fiver for in the George’s Street Arcade.

I BUY MY CLOTHES WHEN … The holes in my underwear develop holes of their own. I used to buy a lot of clothes while touring, particularly in America, in outlets or wonderful thrift stores.

“Men need to be encouraged to be more open and honest and empathetic. There’s strength to be found in empathy …”

MY FAVOURITE SHOES … A pair of patent leather golf shoes I found in a thrift store. I got great mileage – and merciless teasing – out of those.

DO YOU USE SKINCARE PRODUCTS? My wife always asks me if I have moisturised! I use the products she gets for me. I wear sunscreen. For years, I thought my Spanish Armada/Connemara ancestry would protect my skin, but it never did.

MY EXERCISE ROUTINE INCLUDES … Briskly walking our two-year-old Doberman Pinscher for an hour every day. I used to go to the gym and run a lot, but now I walk the dog.

I RECENTLY READ … The Colony by Audrey Magee. It was recommended to me at the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas, which I go to every year.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE IMPORTANT FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS IN YOUR LIFE? I have four daughters, they’re hugely important, and the relationships with their mums have been incredibly significant, some more successful than others. But the relationship with Síona, my wife of 15 years, is absolutely the most important and I think will continue till the day I die.

MY FRIENDSHIPS ARE … Everything to me. Other than my siblings, Liam is probably the longest relationship in my life. I’m still close to other schoolfriends too, including Colm Ó Snodaigh from Kila. We sat beside each other in Junior Infants and went through primary and secondary together, and are still close friends.

HOW CAN MENS’ MENTAL HEALTH BE BETTER SUPPORTED? I think that men need to be encouraged to be more open and honest and empathetic. There’s huge strength to be found in empathy.

CAN YOU SPEAK A FOREIGN LANGUAGE? I speak French. When I was a kid, my parents took in a French student who was doing an MA in Anglo-Irish literature. She lived with us for two years and when I was seven and she was 21, she brought me back to Paris for six weeks – by the end of that trip I was fluent. Her mother is about to turn 101. There’s a 50-year relationship between the two families.

I DEAL WITH A SETBACK BY … Taking a deep breath. There’s a cliché that things happen for a reason and that rings around in my head and carries me through.

A HOLIDAY I’D LIKE TO REPEAT WOULD BE … Deia in Mallorca. I spent several weeks on different occasions there – on my own, with my older kids when they were teenagers, even did a gig there. I’d love to go back there with Síona.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE OF GRIEF? When my first important relationship broke down. In the counselling and mediation that followed, it was likened to grief. Accepting that was important in terms of moving through it.

THE PERFECT WEEKEND INCLUDES … Being somewhere wet and windy like Connemara, or warm and glorious like Deia. But it would be to escape with my wife. We got away for the night when she had a significant birthday this year, but we were under strict orders to be back by 9.30am the next morning. So to steal away with Síona would be a gift.


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