This woman’s heart still beats to a dif­fer­ent drum

From bat­tling al­co­holism to hav­ing stents and cheat­ing car crashes, coura­geous chanteuse Mary Cough­lan is not go­ing to let any­thing — or any­one — stop her

Irish Daily Mail - - It’s Fri­day! - by Pa­trice Har­ring­ton MARY Cough­lan’s first al­bum Tired And Emo­tional was re­leased back in 1985

SHE’S known as much for her dra­matic life as her soul­ful voice, but Mary Cough­lan’s open­ing gam­bit when we meet in a Dublin ho­tel is still quite the jaw-drop­per. ‘I’m after crash­ing the f ****** car on the way here,’ she dead­pans, in that dis­tinc­tive Gal­way brogue.

The jazz singer had her hair done in Don­ny­brook for our pho­to­shoot and af­ter­wards, turn­ing right out of her car park­ing space to merge with traf­fic, she pranged with an­other car.

‘It’s my fault, isn’t it? But sure if I didn’t try and get out I’d still be there now,’ she shrugs. I tell her she is very calm, con­sid­er­ing. ‘Well I spent two days in Gal­way with my de­mented fa­ther — yesterday and the day be­fore — so it puts ev­ery­thing into con­text. It’s noth­ing.’

Her fa­ther Peter Do­herty lives in a granny flat be­hind her sis­ter’s house, is 87, ‘looks great and is go­ing to live for­ever’.

But as for the car, the ‘whole f ****** front is b ****** d’ and it has trou­ble turn­ing around cor­ners. Where is it now? ‘It’s out there,’ she says, nod­ding at the win­dow of the ho­tel. ‘It’s fine. It’s like a f ****** trac­tor, it’s a big Suzuki jeep. Her car is in bits. It’s a tiny lit­tle red car. Oh stop­pit,’ she cringes, be­fore gath­er­ing her­self. ‘It’s an in­sur­ance job, like. No­body’s f ******* dead.’

Mary has been sober for twenty four years fol­low­ing well-doc­u­mented al­co­hol and co­caine ad­dic­tions. I joke that the worst thing about the crash is that she can’t even have a drink to set­tle her nerves.

‘Your man says to me, “I’ve left you your vodka and tonic on the ta­ble”. That lit­tle fella there!’ she says, ges­tur­ing to a waiter. ‘I said, “I didn’t or­der vodka and tonic”. He said, “I was read­ing your mind”. I said, “I don’t drink”. He said, “I’m only jok­ing!” I swear to God. I looked at it and I said, “F***, maybe it is!” But it’s not.’

Lest any reader doubt her, I picked up the tab after our chat and the drink was def­i­nitely wa­ter.

Next Mary apol­o­gises be­fore check­ing her phone, which she keeps on the ta­ble.

‘My daugh­ter’s gone into f ****** labour,’ she ex­plains, of Ol­wen, 39, a graphic de­signer who works for Mary’s ex-hus­band Frank Bona­dio — more of whom later. (Ol­wen wel­comed a baby girl, Mary’s fourth grand­child.)

‘And I had to bring my son to the vet this morn­ing with the cat. The cat is not well,’ she says, shak­ing her head.

We haven’t or­dered the cof­fees yet and al­ready we’ve had a car crash, a labour­ing daugh­ter, a ‘de­mented’ fa­ther and an ail­ing cat. Then Mary says she can’t even have cof­fee be­cause she’s meet­ing her car­di­ol­o­gist in St Vin­cent’s hospital after this and he warned her not to. It’s a rou­tine check-up fol­low­ing her oper­a­tion to have ‘a few’ stents put in her heart last Septem­ber.

When she turned sixty the pre­vi­ous May, Mary felt too unwell to cel­e­brate and wrote in her diary, ‘I think there’s some­thing wrong with my heart’.

It took some time to con­vince doc­tors. She claims she checked into three hos­pi­tals com­plain­ing of chest pain, only to be told: “Well, you have lung prob­lems his­tor­i­cally. Here’s some sol­padeine and here’s some anx­i­calm tablets for panic at­tacks”. You know, I some­times think they don’t take me se­ri­ously enough be­cause, “Oh Mary Cough­lan, she’s on what­ever”. I ac­tu­ally felt that.’

She rang her GP from Marks & Spencer in Dun­drum on Au­gust 29 be­cause she was find­ing it dif­fi­cult ‘to breathe and walk at the same time’. Her GP made an ap­point­ment with a lung spe­cial­ist in St Vin­cent’s for that af­ter­noon.

‘And a nurse picked me off the floor in the car park and brought me in a wheel­chair. And the doc­tor said, “I don’t think this has any­thing to do with your lungs” and he popped a tablet in my gob, called a car­di­ol­o­gist and they kept me there. They couldn’t even put the stents in yet, they had to give me blood thin­ners for a few days first. I had re­ally bad block­ages — 99%, 97% and 60% and 40%. So two ar­ter­ies weren’t work­ing at all.’

Mary felt so good fol­low­ing the oper­a­tion that she was tour­ing Eng­land and Ger­many five weeks later.

‘I feel amaz­ing and if I hadn’t had that oper­a­tion I’d be dead. So I went off to see all my old friends on De­cem­ber 27. I said I’m go­ing to spend a month in Amer­ica — Mi­ami, Tobago and Chicago.’

Her old foe Sinead O’Con­nor has been stay­ing in Chicago of late — the two fell out when Bona­dio fa­thered a child, Yeshua, with Sinead fol­low­ing his split from Mary, with whom he has two chil­dren. He didn’t leave Mary for Sinead; they had split two years ear­lier — and just seven months after they mar­ried — when he con­fessed to hav­ing had an af­fair with their Span­ish au pair. But Cough­lan and O’Con­nor still fought over him, their bit­ter tit-for-tat texts printed in news­pa­pers. They have since buried the hatchet, but Mary arches her eye­brows when asked if Sinead was one of the friends she met up with in Chicago.

‘I did not, no. I’m not go­ing to go there.’

Bona­dio lives in the seafront home in Bray Mary sold him and she says they get on ‘grand’. She adds of his 10-year-old son with O’Con­nor: ‘Yeshy spends a lot of time in our house. He hangs with the kids, you know, my kids. He’s part of the fam­ily, big time. We were at his Com­mu­nion last year.’

Fam­ily is a big deal to Mary. She has three chil­dren from her first mar­riage to Fin­tan Cough­lan — Aoife, who works for Lit­er­a­ture Ire­land, Ol­wen, and Eoin who has a Masters in Mu­sic from Trin­ity and works in Me­dia Cube in IADT. Her younger chil­dren are Clare, who is train­ing to be a horse whis­perer and Leav­ing Cert stu­dent Cian, who is fill­ing out his CAO form and wants to be a chef.

As for the grand­chil­dren, ‘Oh, I love them. It’s just the most amaz­ing thing to ever have hap­pened. To have grand­chil­dren on sleep­overs! We drag a big mat­tress out onto the floor in front of the telly and we watch all the s**t films that are out and we have drink­ing choco­late and treats.’

RE­CENT re­ports say Mary has split from her boyfriend of ten years, John Kelly, but it sounds more like they are still in their un­con­ven­tional re­la­tion­ship.

‘John is in New Zealand. He lives there part-time and I go out to New Zealand. He owns a light­ing com­pany there; con­cert light­ing and stage light­ing. He lives most of the time here. But since the earth­quake in New Zealand one of his ware­houses fell down and now they’re rebuilding, so he went back in De­cem­ber. So I’ll see him… He’s com­ing back to do Vicar Street and we’re both leav­ing to­gether the next day,’ she says, of her up­com­ing gig in Dublin on Satur­day, May 13 and sub­se­quent gigs Down Un­der. Does she miss him? ‘No… I... Yeah, of course I miss him. Like today all I’d have to do is call him and he’d be there,’ she says, of the car crash. ‘But I also en­joy fend­ing for my­self. And be­ing on my own. I like my own space and my own woman cave of a bed­room.’

Mary looks well and has re­mark­ably good skin — she says it’s ‘be­cause the blood is flow­ing again’ and that she was ‘grey in the face’ be­fore the oper­a­tion.

‘I’m lucky to be here. I’m fly­ing, I’m walk­ing, I’m run­ning. And do­ing weights. I do car­dio-fit­ness three times a week. They mon­i­tor me; I wear a thing and I’m mon­i­tored. It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult. Run­ning for five min­utes car­ry­ing six ki­los of weights and then stop­ping and go­ing again and cy­cling and do­ing squats. But I’m fit. I’m fat but fit. I’m fit fat,’ she laughs.

Her phone rings and she takes the call. ‘Is this about the lit­tle prang we had this morn­ing? Jesus you’re quick,’ she says, ex­plain­ing that she

can’t dis­cuss it un­til to­mor­row. ‘I’ve to see my car­di­ol­o­gist at 4 o’clock,’ she says, wink­ing at me. ‘Are you my in­sur­ance or her in­sur­ance?’

Drama aside, Mary is easy com­pany and down-to-earth. She is also quirky and new agey, into things like shaman­ism.

‘I’m part of a group called Sli an Chroi, the path of the heart. We meet some­times and we have full moon meet­ings. We do breath­ing and chant­ing and lis­ten to drum­ming mu­sic and we med­i­tate. It’s lovely. We sit in cir­cle and stuff like that.’

She was also one of the more con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects in the re­cent documentary film Meet­ings with Ivor about psy­chi­a­trist Dr Ivor Browne, known for his op­po­si­tion to tra­di­tional psy­chi­a­try.

Co­me­dian Tommy Tier­nan, au­thor Se­bas­tian Barry and jour­nal­ist Nell McCaf­ferty also fea­tured. But Mary was the only one who con­sented to un­der­go­ing re­gres­sion ther­apy on camera. She has been fas­ci­nated with Dr Browne since the 1980s, but only re­cently spoke to him.

‘I kept run­ning into him. I’d see him in Don­ny­brook when I was buy­ing my vegetables and I saw him here and there and at Michael D’s house — f ****** Michael D’s house, The Aras!’ she cor­rects her­self.

‘Lit­er­ally ev­ery­where I went, Ivor was there. I said, “Okay Mary, here you go”. I said to him, “What are you do­ing now?” And he said, “Ac­tu­ally I’m do­ing this film…” And that was it — I was off.’

At what event in the Aras did they meet?

‘Some do Michael D was hav­ing. I’ve been there lots of times. I go up and sing a song when­ever they have an oul event on.’

She and Dr Browne had plenty to dis­cuss. Her 2010 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Bloody Mary, told of how she was kissed and touched sex­u­ally by her grand­fa­ther, and touched in­ap­pro­pri­ately by an­other man. She was a teenage run­away, has sur­vived two bro­ken mar­riages, and the hurt she caused to her chil­dren dur­ing those years of drink and drug abuse.

‘I had ma­jor health is­sues, I almost died,’ she says, of the dark­est days be­fore she sobered up in 1993. ‘I was in hospital for a while and then I went to the Rut­land Cen­tre. I had bad meta­bolic aci­do­sis — when your or­gans start turn­ing against you — so I had to stop drink­ing. And I man­aged it.’

Re­gres­sion ther­apy is when ‘you go back to places of trauma in your past and you feel the ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than talk about it. It was very dif­fi­cult.’

See­ing her­self re­gressed on film was ‘quite freaky ac­tu­ally. The level of to­tal im­mer­sion that you’re in. You’re not aware of any­thing ex­cept where you are in your head and your heart.

‘It might sound stupid, but I be­lieve that a lot of the stuff that was go­ing on with my heart came to the sur­face at that time and that’s what came up for heal­ing. I do be­lieve that.

‘It clears them all out. I know my car­di­ol­o­gist would not agree. But,’ she adds, ‘I’ve al­ways had a slightly dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at things’.

Mary Cough­lan, Live and Kick­ing, Vicar St, Dublin, May 13, de­tails tick­et­mas­ter.ie

Con­trary Mary: ‘I’ve al­ways had a slightly dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at things’

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